You never know who is part of the WOB network. Our current Women in Leadership cohort is a great mix of skilled and experienced women, including HUGO BOSS Australia Human Resources Manager, Tracey Horton, who recently rolled out Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) in her workplace. Sensing some 'really useful information' was only an email away, WOB Executive Director Claire Braund asked Tracey to share her experience with the network.
Rapid antigen tests (RAT) are already used widely in Europe and the United States to test for COVID-19, where testing yourself at home or the workplace has been a common practice throughout the pandemic.
Now, many Australian employers are weighing up whether to utilise RAT as a cost-effective and comparatively efficient means of screening workers with no symptoms for the COVID-19 virus in the workplace.
In early October 2021 with the daily case numbers of COVID-19 infection increasing across Melbourne, it became obvious that there was a risk if we were to continue to operate our warehouse in the same manner.
The Melbourne Airport based warehouse operates with 17 employees, most of them full timers. It operates from 7.30- 4pm, five days per week, and processes incoming overseas stock as well as picking and distributing outgoing stock to retail and wholesale customers across Australia and New Zealand. If one employee were to be diagnosed with COVID-19 the entire operation would have to close for 14 days creating an enormous negative impact across multiple businesses.
The first thing we did was jump on the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) website for more information on RAT (which actually created more questions than answers).
Rapid antigen testing involves a nasal swab (using a small cotton bud) that is placed into a chemical solution and results are available within half an hour. It is proving popular with employers in some industries as tests can be performed onsite and the process is quick.
However, these tests have some limitations compared to the standard COVID-19 tests (PCR) used at testing clinics - while they will detect most cases of COVID-19 they are not as accurate as the standard PCR test.
Current TGA restrictions require RAT to be performed under the overall supervision of a health practitioner, adding another obstacle to implementation.
However, from 1 November 2021 the TGA has announced it will make a new regulation to allow companies to legally supply their self-tests for use at home in Australia and has released a list of approved RAT self-tests for home use.
Colleagues suggested some warehouses in Melbourne were already undertaking RAT. We made contact with our client relationship manager at TOLL to see what information they had given their support at Melbourne warehouses. They suggested that another client of theirs was conducting tests and provided a name for a contact at JPS Global – a company that specialises in the supply of healthcare PPE, cleaning and hygiene products.
The sales associate at JPS Global was open, informative and supportive. She discussed how the process could work for us given the relative small scale of our operation and our lack of an on-site or local health practitioner. The implementation moved from overwhelming and impossible to possible within a short time frame.
Armed with knowledge and projected costs of the project I directly approached the Regional Director of Finance and Logistics and provided an outline of the project. Fundamentally the cost per test unit would be $10 and the test would need to be conducted on all onsite employees two to three times per week. A health practitioner would not have to be on site but rather could supervise the testing over Zoom at a cost of $100 per hour.
The Finance head gave approval immediately.
An important part of the process was ensuring we consulted effectively with the team about the introduction of RATS. At an all-team meeting at the warehouse I provided an overview of the process and the timeline as I understood it at stage. The team was supportive and understood the rationale and requirement for testing. I provided the opportunity for anyone to talk to me separately and confidentially but was not taken up on this. All the team members provided their agreement for me to pass on confidential information to the medical supervisor (name, date of birth and mobile phone number).
During the consultation we also confirmed that the team would be paid for the time they were taking the test – ie it was being undertaken during work hours.
Purchasing RAT kits and Medical Supervision
We made the decision to purchase kits to test all employees three times per week for four weeks. The kits were at a supplier in Melbourne and I rang them directly to place the order. By this time it was mid week and we were hopeful to introduce the testing at the start of the following week so to mitigate potential transport delays I offered to pick up the kits directly.
Our JPS contact also put me in touch with a medical practitioner who could support us with the supervision of the tests. I reached out to Fiona at Mend Services to set up the next stage.
Fiona worked with me in fine-tuning our testing plan. To this stage I had arranged the purchase of kits and I knew we could use Zoom sessions to meet supervision requirements but I had to work out other issues including the timing of the Zoom sessions, the location of the employees for the Zoom sessions, permissions, confidentiality, disposal of kits and reporting.
We confirmed that we would test each employee on three days per week – Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. This would mitigate risk given exposure time and shedding of the COVID-19 virus.
For example, if a person is a close contact of a person with the virus on Saturday they will not be contagious or test positive on the Monday. The virus takes three to four days to shed in the body so the Wednesday test would show if the virus was present.
According to Fiona, the first step was for me to understand how the testing would work. I undertook a test on the Friday under the supervision from Fiona on Zoom.
With the practical knowledge nailed, Fiona and I were able to work out the logistics of commencing the testing on the following Monday morning
Firstly, I had more purchases to make. I would need to purchase small zip lock bags, Sharpie pens and hand sanitizer. Officeworks click and collect provided and I was able to tick off another step in the preparation process.
The Sharpie pens are used to write employee name and test date on the test unit – this avoids fraudulent testing.
The kits which came in boxes of 20 kits would need to be broken down into individual test kits in zip lock bags before Monday morning.
Testing 17 or more people at once for the first time was not recommended. I worked with the Warehouse Manager to create two lists of employees with the first group volunteering to be on site at 7.15am on the Monday morning. The second group would be on site at 7.45am
Timing and logistics
With the timing of the two groups confirmed the information on each team member was emailed to Fiona so that she would send a Zoom link to their mobile phone prior to testing on the Monday morning.
I was on site at 7am to with the individual kits and kits of pens and hand sanitizer. I was able to request that upon arrival on site that all employees remained in their cars. They would undertake the tests in their cars.
Team members arrived as arranged for the testing on the Monday morning. There were a few technical challenges including one team member with an older model phone that was not able to access Apps and therefore Zoom.
Everyone was a little anxious as the test is a nasal swab involved gently pushing a ‘swish’ swab two centimetres up their nose – with Fiona looking on. The trained eye can see if the swab has been inserted far enough up the nose. A reaction of eyes watering, sneezing and head shaking proves that the swab has reached the appropriate part of the nose.
Two team members had to repeat the test on the first day. They did not listen and inserted the fluid in the wrong part of the test unit.
It took over two hours to test 17 team members on the first morning. I moved from car to car to support as Fiona moved between Zoom supervisions and calling me to check in with employees.
Each team member needed to sit in their car for the 15 to 20 minutes post putting the test fluid on the test unit. One red line on the test unit shows that the test has been undertaken correctly. Two test lines would indicate the presence of the virus.
After 20 minutes I approached each person in their car to view their test kit result. Each team member then sent a photo of the test result directly to Fiona for her testing, medical records.
After the first test on the Monday I revised the testing plan with Fiona. We decided to use one Zoom link and to test employees as they arrived into the car park -ie not at a specified time. I again dispensed the individual kits and was able to support Fiona in checking team members who were not as confident or competent in the testing.
Fiona continued to advise me of finish times and after 20 minutes I took a photo of the individuals test to send through to Fiona. The time taken on this occasion for the entire process reduced to one hour.
After a few more days of supervised testing by Fiona it is likely that Fiona will authorise me as a tester so the need for Fiona to attend via Zoom will cease. This will make the process even more seamless and time efficient.