Safety first: Workplace screening is still essential

by Norm Kramer

Compliance with Covid-19 requirements and ongoing vaccinations are bringing us closer to enjoying a life with fewer restrictions. These efforts are worth celebrating because they’ve been achieved through personal, corporate and institutional efforts.

Norm Kramer is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional
with over 25 years’ experience. Norm
provides consulting
services for WSPS as
a Warehouse Specialist
in the GTA region.

But what may be getting lost in our hope for a Covid-free future is the need to continue complying with preventive measures in the workplace. Highly contagious variants continue to afflict us, and vaccinated people can still contract the virus – albeit with milder symptoms – and pass it on to others.

One of the best ways to prevent Covid-19 from entering a facility is to screen each person who comes on site, including employees, drivers delivering goods, and other visitors. Screening is a critical part of prevention efforts, along with physical distancing, disinfecting, wearing personal protective equipment, and other control measures. They work together to keep the virus in check.

A screening refresher

Screening helps identify anyone who may be infected and could spread the virus, especially those showing no symptoms of infection. Even vaccinated people should be screened, since they may be carriers.

There are two main types of screening:

Passive screening, such as posting signs with questions at entrances, encourages people to self-identify if they have any symptoms or risks. In passive screening the individual is responsible for assessing the risk they may pose.

Active screening involves asking individuals specific questions about Covid-19 risk factors (e.g. symptoms, close contact to known cases, recent travel), and possibly taking their temperature. The employer assesses the results to determine whether the individual may enter. Where possible, have employees and visitors complete an online screening process before they arrive.

Rapid antigen testing could be considered an additional screening tool but is not a substitute for symptom screening. While these tests are less sensitive than laboratory tests, they can be useful in detecting people infected with Covid-19, including those who are asymptomatic.

For more on testing options,

Screening visitors and employees

Check with your workplace health and safety authority and your local health department for specific screening requirements.

Where possible, advise employees, drivers and other visitors beforehand that they will be expected to self-screen prior to arrival. Provide instructions in advance. This would also be a good time to inform people of on-site preventive measures and protocols, such as:

  • physical distancing and use of masks;
  • sanitizing practices for hands, tools and equipment brought into the workplace;
  • limits on physical contact – no handshakes, no sharing of tools or devices without sanitizing.

Start with passive screening. A single ‘Yes’ answer could bar the person from entering your workplace. This would not apply to someone experiencing mild side effects from having been vaccinated in the previous 48 hours. These side effects may include a mild headache, fatigue, muscle aches, or joint pain. These people may be allowed to enter the workplace so long as they wear a surgical mask the entire time and follow all health and safety controls and protocols in place.

Back up passive screening with on-site active screening. Many jurisdictions offer an online screening tool or guideline.

Consider implementing a hands-free sign-in process so that visitors don’t have to touch your equipment or surfaces when entering the facility. For example, provide QR codes that contain a link to the company’s online screening process so that visitors sign in on their own device.

If anyone fails a screening, advise them to self-isolate at home and talk to their healthcare provider or local public health unit for guidance.

Screening yourself

If you’re making deliveries or have employees on delivery, check in advance for specific Covid requirements at delivery sites. This could save time on arrival, but if a delivery site isn’t being vigilant about applying Covid restrictions, including screening visitors, double down on your own precautions, such as masking, physically distancing, and washing or sanitizing hands before arriving, during, and after visits.

Remember that while screening is essential, it’s not a failsafe. It’s one tactic among many in an employer’s toolbox for halting transmission of the virus. Ensure you continue to apply recommended precautions, follow scientific developments, and rely only on credible information.