Covid-19 has had an unprecedented impact on economies all over the world. Many businesses have shut down, suspended trading or continued on a limited basis. Many workers have lost their jobs, been furloughed or worked from home in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. ‘Test-and-trace’ is being discussed as a way for economies to recover as they end their respective lockdowns. Here we look at what this means for organisations and for workers.
What is track-and-trace?
Test-and-trace, also known as contact tracing, is a system implemented by countries around the world to manage the spread of Covid-19. Broadly speaking, it is a smartphone application (app), designed to inform people if they have been in close contact with someone who later reports positive for Covid-19. A system that can record these details will enable governments to advise individuals to take a test and quarantine themselves if they test positive. Although the intricacies of apps may differ from country to country, the systems are designed with the same purpose – to quickly track down anyone who may have been infected and alert them to the need to self-isolate. After downloading the app to their smartphone, the user can opt-in to record details of their symptoms when they start to feel unwell. The app keeps a trace of others who have been in close contact with a positive case through Bluetooth signals. Bluetooth signals perform a digital “greeting” when two users come into close contact.
What might track-and-trace look like in the workplace and how will it benefit my organisation?
An organisation can use a test-and-trace system to pinpoint the workers, equipment and work areas that have or may have been contaminated by a worker testing positive for Covid-19. This enables the organisation to trace and inform other workers who may have become infected through working with that individual, either using the same equipment or in the same area. Organisations can then direct that any potentially infected equipment or product should be deep-cleaned and, if necessary, that an area should be evacuated.
What kinds of measures can my organisation implement to make it easier to track and trace?
Whichever test-and-trace app an organisation adopts, there are many measures which they can implement to reduce the potential for exposure to the Covid-19 virus. Together, these make a workable system that can be documented on paper or stored electronically on computer spreadsheets.
The following suggestions are a starting point for measures that health and safety professionals can introduce to manage the risk of transmissions in the workplace:
- Identify and create fixed teams, groups and production lines (keep these teams unchanged as far as possible until government restrictions suggest otherwise) – this might help an organisation to limit the spread of the virus to just one team rather than the whole workforce
- Any equipment used by a worker should be personal and clearly identified and recorded
- Record routes taken by workers as part of their work activities that may compromise social distancing measures (this may already be part of planning in returning safely). This will help identify potential cross-over points and inform any tracing with other workers or teams should any worker test positive for Covid-19
- If there is a need for shared equipment, this should be limited to as few workers as possible. Document any shared equipment, along with the users of that equipment
- Arrange the timing of meal breaks team by team, containing any potential spread of the virus to one team or area at a time. Establish and record each team’s regular break time and try to maintain this slot
- A deep clean will be necessary after a team uses a common area, such as a canteen and should be documented
- Record all other cleaning practices, such as deep cleans or general wash-downs of equipment or areas
- Make a record of meetings – room, time, participants
- Record workers’ entrance to and departure from the site
- Document any contractors or visitors to the site and manage their access to areas
- Record any workers and areas with which a visitor or contractor comes into contact
- Ensure workers self-isolate if they have been in close contact with a positive case or have tested positive themselves.
Remember that this list serves as a starting point and will need to be adjusted according to local conditions and the specifics of any given workplace. It is a guide to practical actions which, in themselves, will help to reduce the likelihood of transmission of the virus. You can also refer to WHO’s guidance on Contact tracing in the context of Covid-19.