Workplace Temperature Screening Under COVID-19

Using temperature testing as a method for screening employees arriving at work is not without its controversy but is still a relatively easy way of checking for COVID-19 in the workplace. It is simple, cost effective and does not involve invasive procedures.

It is vital to understand that temperature testing purely on its own and without consideration of some important factors, will not be enough. Even then, it is easy to miss people who are infected but do not yet show symptoms. Having said that, a carefully considered screening programme conducted regularly will help your organisation mitigate the risk.

If you are going to introduce this into your workplace then there are some points that you must consider.

  • You should notify employees of your intention to take their temperatures and the purpose for conducting the tests.
  • Employees should be encouraged to take their own temperatures before reporting to work, especially if they are not feeling well or are experiencing any COVID-19-related symptoms, such as fever, coughing, shortness of breath and loss of the sense of taste or smell. Staff who are experiencing any symptoms of infection should in the first instance remain at home and self-isolate.
  • You should notify employees of their obligations to comply with testing if that exists in your organisation and warn them of any workplace implications if they refuse to submit to the temperature screening. Employees should be encouraged to inform their employers in advance if they object to a screening in case some of their fears may be alleviated.
  • Make sure you include questions in your screening relating to symptoms that people must look out for.
  • Skin temperature can be affected by the environment, sweating, exercise and emotional state. You should mitigate for these as far as possible with a relaxed environment and ideally allow time for the skin to normalise.
  • Consider the location of temperature screenings onsite to maintain privacy and avoid congestion.
  • Use non-contact Infra-red (IR) thermometers specifically calibrated to human measurements.
  • You should remind employees that having a high temperature of 38˚C (100.4˚F) or over, is not confirmation of having COVID-19 and further screening may be sought from their doctor.
  • It is also the case that an apparently ‘normal’ temperature does not necessarily mean that the employee does not have COVID-19 and that they should still be vigilant for symptoms.
  • Implement a plan should an employee have a high temperature, including designating a person with whom the employee can discuss the next steps.

Equipment

Not all Infra-red (IR) thermometers are born equal! You should be careful in selecting the right kind of thermometer as infra-red monitoring is not an absolute but is relative to its calibration.

Normal IR thermometers are calibrated to a matt black surface and all readings are then relative to that based on their reflectivity index (how light reflective the surface is). As skin is not matt black, then it needs a different calibration coefficient, which is built into some models, especially designed for forehead use.

The unit pictured here is one such thermometer is one such device and you can find links to suitable products here:

RayTemp Forehead IR – Forehead Infrared Thermometer
Non-Contact Forehead Thermometer

You can also use in-ear thermometers, which are also infra-red and are designed specifically for the purpose. The major problem here is that you need to be in close proximity to the employee and there is contact between the thermometer and the ear, so each test takes much longer and requires more PPE, more cleaning, more training and is more invasive, so carries with it more issues in terms of employee consent.

Testing procedure example

For temperature testing to be conducted safely, effectively, and in accordance with data protection and company policy, employers should develop a procedure to suit themselves. Below is an example of such a procedure, which can be modified for your situation.

  1. Ensure that the team member who is responsible for performing temperature screenings is properly trained to use the touchless temperature scanner and understands what factors aside from COVID-19 could influence its readings.
  2. The tester should be provided with personal protective equipment, including gloves, face masks, and a disposable coat or apron. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer must be accessible in areas where testing is conducted.
  3. You must seek consent from the employee before you can take their temperature. This should ideally be done prior to the screening but can be done by the tester at the point of the test if necessary.
    1. You may have contractual clauses (express or implied), which impose an obligation on an employee to undergo certain testing. This may or may not specifically cover temperature, so advice should be sought for your company. In this case, refusal to comply may result in disciplinary action
    2. If you do not have a contractual clause and an employee refuses to be tested, then you can refuse to admit them to the workplace. In this case, you can ask them employee to work from home or self-isolate for a specified period.
  4. In addition to conducting temperature screening, the tester should ask each employee who enters the workplace whether they are exhibiting any other symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, fever or loss of smell and taste or if they are otherwise feeling unwell. The tester should also ask whether the employee has had close contact with someone in the past 14 days who has been diagnosed with, or is presumed to have, COVID-19.
  5. If possible, employees should be tested and asked the above screening questions in a private or semi-private area, out of the sight and earshot of their colleagues, contractors, or other visitors. This should be done for privacy and logistical considerations to avoid congestion.
  6. You should ideally wait 5 or 10 minutes for the employee’s skin temperature to normalise before taking the test. This will depend on the environment they have come from.
  7. Test results and the answers to the questions can be recorded along with the employee’s consent (or otherwise), providing this is done in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR) and your company policy.
  8. Employees with temperatures at or above 38˚C (100.4˚F), or who answer “yes” to any of the screening questions, should be advised to return home, self-isolate, and dial 111 to discuss their symptoms, testing, treatment options, self-isolation requirements, and for advice regarding the next steps.

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