ECDC has joined forces with EU-OSHA, the EU agency for occupational safety and health, to explore the use of rapid antigen tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the workplace.
The findings are presented in a new joint technical report, which includes a survey of EU-OSHA’s focal points on the current use of rapid antigen tests in a workplace context in the EU/EEA. It builds on the body of knowledge regarding the use of rapid antigen tests provided in ECDC reports.
The report shows that rapid antigen testing can help reduce the spread of the virus in high-risk indoor workplaces. However, the report stresses that testing cannot replace other safety and health measures and should be used to complement them.
It also highlights the importance of careful planning and involving employers, workers, occupational safety and health authorities, public health authorities and occupational health services in the design of a testing strategy for the workplace before implementation.
Executive summary – Key messages
The use of rapid antigen detection tests (RADTs) and/or self-test RADTs in occupational settings can complement, but not replace, occupational safety and health measures and existing non-pharmaceutical interventions at the workplace aimed at preventing the introduction and spread of SARS-CoV-2. Most importantly, any individual exhibiting COVID-19-like symptoms should stay at home/self-isolate and access testing as soon as possible.
This document outlines the public health and occupational safety and health considerations for the use of RADTs, including self-test RADTs, to detect SARS-CoV-2 in individuals in occupational settings in the European Union/European Economic Area (EU/EEA).
The use of RADTs and/or self-test RADTs is appropriate in settings with high COVID-19 prevalence when a positive result is likely to indicate true infection, as well as in low prevalence settings for rapid identification of highly infectious individuals. In a low prevalence setting, however, caution is needed, as the use of RADTs could result in a high number of false positive test results.
There are different legal frameworks and requirements in the different EU/EEA countries concerning testing in the workplace. Several EU/EEA countries have introduced the use of RADTs at the workplace. However, a recent EU-OSHA survey indicates that the use of self-test RADTs is limited in occupational settings in most EU/EEA countries.
When considering the use of RADTs and/or self-test RADTs in occupational settings, having a clear testing strategy promotes occupational safety and health and facilitates meeting the public health objectives of testing. Within the strategy, the test performance must be considered as well as the prevalence of COVID-19 and the transmission dynamics in the occupational setting at hand.
Discussions on the appropriate testing strategy should be initiated between all relevant stakeholders before their implementation, including employers, workers, occupational safety and health authorities, and public health authorities. When testing strategies are designed and implemented at enterprise level, workers (or their representatives) should be consulted and clearly informed, in a language they can understand, about the procedures set out in the enterprise. The health and safety committee, where available, the occupational physicians or occupational health services should be involved in designing and implementing it. Furthermore, testing at the workplace should be clearly embedded in the occupational safety and health management approach according to the hierarchy of control, and the results of testing should be considered in the regular revision of the workplace risk assessment.
The cost of testing is an issue for enterprises when setting up testing programmes. Funding opportunities may be an important incentive to implement testing at workplaces.
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