COVID-19: The benefits of health screenings in the workplace

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As part of a larger COVID-19 prevention strategy, health screenings are an excellent way for companies to stop the virus and keep employees healthy.

Health screenings can be used as the first line of defense to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus from getting inside the office and infecting employees. Routine health screenings should be part of any company's back to work plan, as they can help keep everyone healthy. 

Panel discussion: Lessons learned from office re-openings

In this article, we're taking a look at why companies need to implement health screenings, how to do so, and what has proven to be effective.

The benefits of health screenings in the workplace

A key component of eliminating the spread of COVID-19 is to stop it at the front door—literally. Requiring employees to complete routine health screenings helps identify at-risk employees, as well as those who could potentially be harboring the virus or showing early signs of infection. 

Health screenings serve many purposes, including:

  • Working as a way to sequester employees who either don't know that they're a risk or aren't sure if they are a risk
  • Identifying potential sites of contamination (if the employee tests positive)
  • Preventing further spread by requiring that employees work from home or take sick leave

These evaluations could be conducted before employees are permitted inside the building, like in the form of a temperature check. They could also be completed before employees leave their house to ensure they aren't accidentally contaminating others. 

But why should this befall on companies? Shouldn't medical professionals handle this?

Companies may be liable for employee's safety, depending on the circumstances. Jeffrey Goldman, the COO of BeyondHQ, told OfficeSpace Software in a recent interview, "Depending on where an employee is in the building, property managers may be responsible for their safety." There are many areas in the workplace that open themselves up as risks. Because of that, companies will need to take precautionary measures to ensure they aren't putting employees—and subsequently themselves—at risk. 

"The best approach is to be conservative. For example, keeping PPE and sanitizing products on hand—order more than you need. If you run out, it's not good," said Goldman. 

In other words, implementing a proactive approach to the safety and well-being of your employees is vital. Providing another avenue, like health screenings, is a great solution. Plus, health screenings at the office could be a quicker option for employees to get checked instead of booking an appointment to see their doctor.  

What's more, if facility managers (FMs) and the leadership team know the status of their employees' health, that can help them plan for absences, workloads, as well as the primary concern, mitigate the spread of the virus. 

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What types of COVID-19 health screenings are available?

There are several health screening options available for companies to implement. Here's a look at some of the current solutions.

Mandatory temperature checks

Temperature checks are a great way to identify if a person might be at risk instantly. Because we know that one of the symptoms of COVID-19 is a fever or chills, requiring employees to pass a temperature check can prevent the virus from spreading throughout the building.

It's important to note that just because a person has a fever doesn't automatically mean they have the virus. However, a confirmed fever does warrant the employee in question to stay home and potentially seek further testing if their symptoms worsen. 

Swab testing

COVID-19 testing is being done in commercial, private, and academic labs and facilities. The swab test includes inserting a long swab into the nose and swabbing both nostrils on either side of the nasal cavity.

This test can provide results that confirm COVID-19 is present in the body, which can then help identify potential sites of contamination, who else might be at risk, as well as other factors. 

The catch with swab testing is that it makes the most sense financially and logistically to test those who know they might have potentially been exposed. For example, if an employee was around someone who has been confirmed to have the virus or who is experiencing symptoms. 

This method might not make the most sense in terms of routine health screenings, but it's essential to have these tests available or to have resources ready to connect employees to testing sites. 

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Hand sanitizer

Stocking your office with hand sanitizer is a critical part of mitigating the spread of the virus. It's another line of defense against the spreading of the virus. 

Requiring that employees use hand sanitizer before they enter the workplace, as well as at times like before eating, after touching a common surface, etc., can drastically reduce the rate at which the virus advances throughout the office.

Of course, employees should be encouraged to practice handwashing as well as using hand sanitizer, but it's an excellent option if handwashing isn't possible. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's important to use a hand sanitizer greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol.

Health questionnaire or checklist

In addition to the physical health checks, enforcing a recurrent questionnaire or checklist can help FMs and company leaders get more information about the status of each employee's health.

These questionnaires could include questions like:

  • Do you have any of the following symptoms? (e.g., cough, shortness of breath, etc.)
  • Are you caring for someone that is sick?
  • Have you recently been in an area that has many confirmed cases of COVID-19?

Digitizing these questionnaires can make it easier to track employee responses, look for patterns, and contact employees if needed. If your policy requires that employees take the survey before leaving for the office, making this available online can streamline logistics and make it easier for people to take. 

Take the quiz: What's the best strategy for you to re-open your office during COVID-19?

COVID-19 health apps

Health apps, like Health Champion, are a great way to keep COVID-19 from passing through your office. These apps make it easy to track employee symptoms, notify the right agencies for reporting purposes, contact tracing, and more.

With a health app, you can see who on your team needs the most support, which can be especially helpful for large companies. You can also see when an employee completed their last health screening, when they were tested last, and other essential information. 

If you opt for a health app, make sure your employees install the app, know how to use it, and understand why it's being used at your company. Creating a video that answers common employee questions, especially those around HIPAA or other health data concerns, is a great way to introduce this tool to your team.

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What are companies already doing that's working?

Several companies are already back at work and using health precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

Many Asian businesses are practicing things like physical distancing in the workplace, health questionnaires, and are wearing PPE. For example, employees at the internet company, Meituan, are required to complete a health questionnaire through an internal app that asks questions about travel history, their overall health, and more. 

In the US, many tech companies are making the permanent shift to remote work to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among their employees. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he believes that 50% of the company could be working remotely within the next five to 10 years. In contrast, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced on May 12th that the company would allow employees to work remotely indefinitely. 

The importance of following safe reopening guidelines cannot be overstated. 

"These guidelines work. They have been enacted in every other region in the state," said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo about COVID-19 safety protocol. "There has been no spike; we know it works." 

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Health screening insight

Health screenings can help companies gain insight into the overall health of their employees and prevent the spread of the virus from occurring in the office. 

They aren't a perfect solution, though. It's important to continue practicing physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and other precautionary measures. 

How is your company handling the transition back to the office? Leave a comment below or send us a tweet.

 

Photos: cottonbro, Graham Ruttan, Kelly Sikkema, Edmond Dantès