What to consider when using rapid antigen testing in the workplace

16 November 2021

We know business and workers need to do their bit to manage and slow the spread of COVID-19. Every business should: have a COVIDSafe plan; provide hand sanitiser; regularly clean high-touch surfaces; comply with rules regarding vaccination; ensure staff wear face masks where required; and use QR codes. In addition, some businesses must conduct COVID-19 surveillance tests and some are recommended to implement a testing scheme.

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Rapid antigen testing is looking like an attractive proposition for many businesses. It’s quick and means workers can be screened in the workplace. Here are our top five issues to consider.

#1: Understand the surveillance testing requirements for your industry

The Workplace (Industry Additional Obligations) Directions (No. 55) came into force on 5 November 2021. The directions set out steps business must take, including surveillance testing in some instances. Those required to conduct surveillance testing are listed on the Surveillance Testing Industry List. The last version of the list was published on 21 October 2021.   

If surveillance testing is mandatory, the Surveillance Testing Industry List will prescribe exactly what needs to be done. It is different for each industry. The frequency of testing reflects the risk attached to the workplace.

For example, a hotel quarantine worker must be tested every day they perform onsite work, whereas in other industries, including construction and food preparation, testing is conditional on unexpected wastewater detection.

The Surveillance Testing Industry List also sets out those industries in which surveillance testing is recommended. Currently, these include  care facilities, commercial passenger vehicles, hospitals and shopping centres.

There is also a trial being conducted in meat, poultry and seafood processing in regional Victoria.

#2: Considering implementing a testing regime as a safety measure – plan!

Many businesses are considering implementing a testing regime making use of rapid antigen tests performed at the worksite. In high-risk settings, this can be a step in the right direction.

However, do your research before introducing a testing regime. 

Firstly, guidance from the Victorian Government highlights that testing where there is little or no community transmission has a limited benefit. In these settings, businesses should comply with COVIDSafe work practices and encourage vaccination.

Rapid antigen testing is, however, a good screening tool for those at greater risk of exposure.

If a business does feel rapid antigen testing is a reasonable measure, you will need to design a testing program and work with a suitable healthcare practitioner.

There will be a lot to consider, including:

  • Have you identified a supplier that can meet your demand for tests?
  • Who will oversee the testing? What qualification or training is required?
  • Who will be tested? What will trigger a testing requirement?
  • Where will tests be conducted? Do you have sufficient personal protective equipment?
  • How will you manage the data and ensure you comply with privacy and confidentiality requirement?
  • How will you obtain consent? Will you introduce a policy - in which case, what will your consultation process look like?

Business will need to ensure the tests and equipment used have been registered and comply with the requirements of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). It’s also worth bearing in mind that while some tests can be conducted on site, they are required to be conducted, or overseen, by a health practitioner, who then interprets the results.

#3: Think practically

Once you have sourced the tests, had a suitable person conduct them, and resolved any issues in relation to consent, it’s time to get practical. That means more planning!

Workers will need to be tested before they enter a worksite. The business needs to understand how it is going to hold those workers and pay the workers for that time. The bigger the business, the bigger the challenge. Staggering start and finish times or working in shifts may help.

Importantly, be 100 per cent clear about what to do if there is a positive test. The Guidance for the provision of rapid antigen testing is a must-read for any business considering implementing testing.

#4: What if a worker refuses to be tested?

If your answer is ‘the business will take disciplinary action,’ go back to your planning stage. 

Was the introduction of rapid antigen testing reasonable? Has the business complied with any consultation requirements in relation to introducing the testing requirement? Was the employee directed to take a test and was that direction lawful and reasonable?

The answers will vary on a case-by-case basis and will be influenced by the nature of industry, the risk present at the time, the worker’s circumstances, and the way the business managed the issue.

Get advice before introducing a testing requirement, and before taking disciplinary action.

#5: Stay up to date

COVID-19 has transformed the way we live and work. The directions issued by the Chief Health Officer (CHO) are regularly changing. It’s vital you keep across the latestinformationand seek advice where needed.

To view the current surveillance testing industry list, visit: www.health.vic.gov.au/covid-19/surveillance-testing-industry-list-covid-19

For health orders, visit: www.health.vic.gov.au/covid-19/directions-issued-by-victorias-chief-health-officer

For businesses considering introducing rapid antigen testing, read the current Guidance for the provision of rapid antigen testing.        

How we can help

The Victorian Chamber Workplace Relations Consultants have advised a number of businesses on the introduction of workplace policies. In addition, the Workplace Relations Advice Line offers general advice on a range of workplace issues, including:

  • Managing unfair dismissal claims
  • Disciplinary processes, performance management and termination
  • Personal illness and injury
  • Parental leave and flexible working arrangements
  • Redundancy
  • Award interpretation, classification and minimum entitlements
  • Occupational Health and Safety and WorkCover.

For assistance on any aspect of your employment obligations, please call the Victorian Chamber Workplace Relations Advice Line on (03) 8662 5222.

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