These are the questions raised by employers about rapid testing and self-testing

Last Friday, VOKA Health Community teamed up with Mensura to organise a webinar on ‘Rapid testing in your company?’ Dr. Geert Laire gave a presentation and answered participants’ questions. You can read the answer to a number of FAQs in this blogpost.

Does an occupational physician need to be involved in performing the test? And is this doctor the only one allowed to perform and analyse or interpret the tests?

Answer from Dr. Geert Laire:

Employers are not permitted to organise or carry out medical tests in the workplace without involving the occupational physician. Both the Care & Health Agency and the Supreme Court for Prevention and Protection at Work state that the testing of employees must always be carried out at the request and under the supervision of the occupational physician.

The appropriate person to perform the tests depends on the type of test:

  • Antigen rapid tests with a deep nose swab must be taken by staff with a medical training. This means that the occupational physician may delegate the execution of tests to a nurse. First-Aid training is not sufficient to allow a person to perform or interpret the results of antigen rapid tests.
  • Antigen rapid tests with a shallow nose swab (also known as ‘self-tests’) can be performed by employees themselves, also in a company. The interpretation of results is done – in a business context – by the occupational physician. Beyond the business context, employees may perform and interpret their own test, whether or not in consultation with their general practitioner or – voluntarily – with the occupational physician. It is up to the doctor to decide whether or not self-tests must be confirmed with a PCR test, in order to exclude false-positive results.

What kind of tests may be performed in the business context?

Answer from Dr. Geert Laire:

Various kinds of corona tests may be performed in a business context, provided these respect the application legislation, in line with the procedures from Sciensano and the Care & Health Agency, and in accordance with the guidelines from the FPS Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue. The most important rule is: the occupational physician consults with the employer, but the occupational physician takes the decisions. He/she determines the target audience, the test frequency and the period during which tests should be performed.

What can a company do in cases where employees perform a self-test?

Answer from Dr. Geert Laire:

As an employer, you are not permitted to ask your employees to perform a self-test and you may not use these tests as a basis on which to allow or refuse your employees access to the company.

Self-tests are tests for which employees are personally responsible for executing the test, the analysis and interpreting the test result. In principle, this is done outside the company.

Self-tests performed by employees beyond the business context, and giving a positive result, must always result in immediate isolation and, in principle, contact with the general practitioner. The employee may also contact the occupational physician. It is the employee’s decision. It is the doctor’s decision whether or not a positive self-test must be confirmed by a PCR test (due to the risk of false-positive results).

Self-tests which are performed at work must be done upon request and under the supervision of the occupational physician.

Can rapid testing be used to screen a large group or can this be done with self-testing?

Answer from Dr. Geert Laire:

Rapid tests can be used for repetitive screening (and therefore separately from cluster management). This is possible when the occupational physician or medical inspector considers that the risk of infection in the company is sufficiently high, due to the large numbers of infections in a particular sector or region. In that case, the occupational physician will opt for antigen-rapid testing, to be performed by medically-trained staff, rather than self-testing. The tests provided to external services by the government must be performed by staff authorised to do so. Should the decision still be taken to use self-tests, this must be conducted under the supervision of the occupational physician.

Screening with self-tests at work without involving the occupational physician is not permitted: the employer is not permitted to enforce this and is obliged to respect the privacy of employees.

‘Voluntary’ screening by employees beyond the business context is done privately, is less reliable and, when complying with the rules, does not give employers a complete view of the situation.