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The New Normal of Workplace Safety

factory workers with face masks having temperatures checked
As the U.S. economy re-opens and people get back to work, expert advice from the Cleveland Clinic and products and services from the likes of Quest Diagnostics aim to keep the workplace safe from COVID-19.

Just a couple of short months ago, workplace safety was a familiar concept. The potential hazards — exposure to chemicals, proximity to machinery, ladders, and so forth — and the preventive measures implemented by employers were straightforward and well-understood. What does that look like in the COVID-19 era? Social distancing . . . temperature checks . . . obsessive hand washing . . . face masks and shields . . . double and triple shifts to comply with strict capacity requirements. And that bulletin board where the company proudly touted the number of days without a workplace injury? Now it might have a poster showing how long the facility has been COVID-19 free. Not only is it not your father’s factory anymore, it’s not even the one you knew a couple of months ago! And that new reality has spawned a whole new ecosystem.

The Cleveland Clinic has published “Return to Work Amid COVID-19: A Cleveland Clinic Guide for Manufacturers,” which can be downloaded from its website. It’s filled with useful information on preparing the workplace so it’s safe to re-open, procedures employees should follow to stay safe, and how employers can communicate effectively about these measures. And it’s from the Cleveland Clinic, so no need for fact-checking on this platform.

Seeing a new business opportunity, some companies have stepped up to tout technologies designed to keep the workplace safe. Last week, we reported on an air-sanitizing system for the workplace that removes dust and particulates that may carry viruses.The patent-pending ScrubX system developed by Novatec can provide dust and particulate control for up to 3,000 square feet of interior space. Read our article to learn more about this system.

Quest Diagnostics launches Return to Work suite of services

Today I learned about an initiative from Quest Diagnostics, which has launched a suite of Return to Work services built around large-scale workforce COVID-19 testing. In addition to molecular/diagnostics and antibody/serology testing for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, Quest also will provide guidance to companies regarding the tools and resources they need to safely resume production as well as how to interpret test results.

As the leading provider of employee population health and workplace drug testing services, Quest Diagnostics already has a trusted relationship with employers. As a result, “we feel Quest can make a major contribution with our Return to Work services,” said Steve Rusckowski, Chairman, CEO, and President. “We will empower organizations of all sizes to use lab insights to help them foster safer and healthy environments as our nation plans to reopen our economy."

The modular features of the new Return to Work service suite include:

  • Event hosting with on-site temperature checks and respiratory and blood specimen collection by Quest Diagnostics staff. Diagnostic testing is performed on respiratory specimens and antibody testing is performed on blood specimens.
  • Access to a variety of specimen-collection options, ranging from respiratory specimen collection for diagnostic testing to use of the company's 2,200 Patient Service Centers for blood draws for COVID-19 antibody testing.
  • IT solutions that include secure online questionnaires to help direct participants to the appropriate testing (diagnostic or antibody) based on factors such as symptoms and exposure to sick individuals and easy-to-understand results reporting.
  • Access to physician ordering, oversight, and telemedicine services.
  • Data integrated with contact tracing and infection control software applications in use by employers.
  • Influenza vaccination services are also provided and will ultimately incorporate SARS CoV-2 vaccines, when available.

All of the tests have received FDA emergency use authorization (EUA). Questions have been raised about the reliability of antibody (serology) tests, however, which are part of the suite of services offered by Quest. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said in guidance on its website that the tests could be wrong up to half the time and should not be used to make decisions about people returning to the workplace. When PlasticsToday asked Quest to comment, Jay G. Wohlgemuth, MD, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, and head of Quest's Employer Population Health business, responded with the following statement.

"We are aware of the CDC guidance and their recommendation that, to ensure the most reliable results, antibody tests have high specificity due to low prevalence. We also appreciate their recommendation that these tests alone should not be used to make decisions on returning to work. Quest Diagnostics is committed to high quality testing, which is why we use FDA EUA tests with/for antibody specificity of 99.6 to 100%. No test is perfect — each type of test (molecular or serology) provides insights that, taken in context with other info (prevalence, work environment), may help guide decisions. We are working with employers on solutions that consider a range of testing scenarios — dx and serology and putting them in context (prevalence, work environment) — to foster safer work environments."

Quest Diagnostics expects high demand for its Return to Work program and is scaling up its COVID-19 lab operations accordingly. Capacity to perform approximately 150,000 molecular diagnostic tests a day is anticipated by the end of June, compared with approximately 80,000 of these tests that are currently being conducted daily. The company also has capacity to perform approximately 200,000 antibody tests a day.

Image: Etajoe/Adobe Stock

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