Advice on how to provide “a safe return to work” system

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Advice on how to provide "a safe return to work" system

As lockdown restrictions are starting to lift, it is imperative that organisations provide employees with “a safe return to work” system, a specialist healthcare provider has provided the five most important steps for an effective return to work strategy.

As the Private Harley Street Clinic outlines, businesses have a moral and legal responsibility to help staff return to the workplace in a safe manner.

Dr Mark Ali, medical director of the Private Harley Street Clinic five tips are:

1. Clinical testing strategy

“Countries with widespread rigorous testing have fared much better, and it is clear that testing will be an ever-present vital part of managing risk and response to outbreaks. It is here to stay.

“Only use approved tests (antigen and antibody tests that are approved by Public Health England) with results interpreted and acted on in line with government guidance. You can test employees for the presence of the virus prior to re-entering the workplace. This testing would be part of an ongoing programme to detect and respond to cases and minimise transmission.”

2. Test and trace – apps

“In addition to the NHS’s own track and trace app, corporations should consider bringing in their own sophisticated tracking apps.” 

3. Workplace modifications

“Many employees are not currently eligible for NHS testing. Businesses should consider using private testing that follows government guidelines. The testing programme should be robust with protocols that are bespoke to the specific organisation and different groups within the company depending on exposure risk. Some may wish to swab high-risk employees at a regular frequency, irrespective of symptoms, as it is well recognised that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread are great drivers of the disease. Imperial College analysis suggests that testing healthcare workers once weekly would reduce transmission by a further 16-23 per cent on top of self-isolation based on symptoms. The Premier League, for example, aims to reassure players by testing with swabs twice a week. Care homes in the US now swab staff twice weekly. Alternatively, for employees without customer-facing roles and lower risk activities, employers may choose to swab only in response to symptoms. This is in line with current practice for key workers. Employers may also consider swabbing unwell household contacts to minimise work lost due to quarantine.”

4. Education – ethics, legal, social responsibility

“The Government has already started to release guidelines for “COVID-safe workplaces” and any return to work strategy must follow these. In addition, it is crucial for organisations to develop clinical strategies and protocols to safeguard employees, customers and clients on return to activity. Each organisation must have robust systems in place to monitor and respond to infection when it occurs. It is likely there will be a second (or even third) wave of infections and companies must be prepared to manage this.”

5.Compliance

“As a business, you will need to get your people to buy into the concept of your return to work. Good and open communication should spell out the benefits and importance of your strategy. Make it easy for people by adding value and giving employees a service that is going to help them. Make use of good simple technology to make it easy for everyone to be compliant.”

Dr Mark Ali said:

Organisations have a legal and moral responsibility to provide a safe return to work programme for employees. This involves having a robust clinical testing programme, underpinned by PHE principles. The importance of an app for test and trace is vital as the virus explodes in clusters. It is extremely important that companies set out a clear vision for safe return to work and establish an empathetic open dialogue with employees.

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