The role of testing in Covid-secure workplaces

20 May 2021

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has joined forces with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to explore, in occupational settings, the use of rapid antigen diagnostic tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Outbreaks and clusters of Covid-19 in occupational settings have been reported since the start of the pandemic, EU-OSHA notes.

In the absence of mitigation measures, workers in some occupations are at higher risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2. These include occupations that require close physical proximity to other people (co-workers, patients and customers), particularly when the work takes place in an indoor setting and/or where transport / accommodation is shared.

According to an ECDC survey on outbreak in occupational settings, circulated in July 2020, most clusters of Covid-19 cases were reported in: health and social care work settings; followed by food processing-related occupational settings, mines and factories/manufacturing settings; and, lastly, by military/law enforcement settings, building/construction sites, education facilities, sales and retail.

The latest findings are presented in a technical report, which concludes that testing can play a role in reducing the spread of the virus in high-risk indoor settings.

However, the report highlights that testing should be used to complement, rather than replace, other safety and health measures to prevent the spread of the virus. It also stresses the importance of involving authorities, workers, employers and occupational health services when developing a testing strategy for the workplace.

Good co-operation between occupational safety and health and public health actors is, the report insists, vital to ensuring everyone is protected.