Screening the sick: A balancing act for employers

People waiting for temperature check by thermoscan

As businesses re-open following the COVID-19 lockdown, how employers go about ensuring a safe system of work will present some unique challenges.

To curb the spread of coronavirus in the workplace, many employers are quick to institute temperature screening and testing policies in an attempt to meet their requirements around health and safety for workers. With data protection and privacy a critical consideration, business owners are faced with a careful balancing act when it comes to health screening at work.

The benefits of temperature checking staff

A high temperature is one of the primary symptoms of COVID-19. Temperature checking at work can assist in reducing the number of infections by empowering employers to take necessary precautions in the case of elevated temperatures. This can take the form of access control and isolation practices to mitigate risks around the virus. While employees are encouraged to work from home where they can, temperature screening can be a useful tool for those with no option but to go to their workplace.

Your duties as an employer

Safety in the workplace

Business owners have a statutory and common law obligation to ensure the health and safety of their employees while they are at work. In the age of coronavirus – and with the likelihood of many virus-related practices carrying on into the future – this means doing what is reasonably practicable to prevent the spread of illness at work. While there is no legal onus to conduct temperature screening, this can be immensely powerful in maintaining worker and customer confidence in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fever screening, data protection, and privacy

This duty of care to worker safety comes with responsibilities around how you collect and process data.

Alexandra Bullmore, employment lawyer at Smith Partnership said: “The current legislation defines information about an employee’s health as a “special category of personal data”, meaning that it can only be processed by employers in limited circumstances. This needs to be carefully considered as any breach can be extremely costly, fines can be issued by the ICO, employees may commence legal action against the company, as well as any reputational damage which may be caused.

“Employees must be notified of the infection risk as soon as possible, however, it is not necessary that the identity of the individual be disclosed if possible.

“Employers need to ensure they only share information that is necessary. People who suffer from certain health conditions are at a higher risk of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19, and employers should therefore ensure that any requirements to attend work do not amount to discrimination and automatically unfair dismissal or a detriment where there is a serious and imminent danger to their health.”

Conducting a risk assessment and engaging in a consultative process with workers on the way forward is a good starting point. Devising a policy on COVID-19 data collection can also help to ensure only adequate and relevant data is collected, temporarily stored, and securely processed. Express consent from employees, anyone conducting screening, and visitors and customers should be sought. This should be wholly transparent, with accessible privacy information available at every step. According to CIPD, employees cannot be compelled to undergo testing and they should be able to refuse without fear of disciplinary action or wage implications.

Simple screening solutions

Digital screening has the potential to eliminate any grey areas around temperature checking. Today’s fever screening solutions merge simplicity with sophistication to mitigate risk and safeguard work environments.

Technologies take many different forms, from very simple to more advanced equipment with detailed outputs. Thermal cameras and temperature-sensing guns are becoming increasingly commonplace in public places and work environments. However, not all of these technologies are accurate, reliable or integrated – and many can be quite intrusive in their application.

Although, with businesses increasingly recognising their benefits, research, design and investment into the technology has been heavy, which has led to the development of screening cameras that do fit the bill.

For example, Smarter Technologies’ FeverCam solution uses an infrared thermal technology to detect high temperatures in individuals. Recordings can be linked to a central dashboard, which immediately notifies the relevant people of anyone that is high-risk. Larger fever cameras can scan crowds, while smaller cameras allow people to ‘self-scan’ and check for the presence of a face mask.

Ideally, data and reporting should be securely transmitted and stored to protect the privacy of the person being screened. Where readings are sent to a remote integrated dashboard, data can be accessed exclusively by selected personnel who can act with optimal discretion. This makes them GDPR compliant and capable of assisting business owners with responsible data collection.

In demonstrating reasonableness, these technologies allow for sensitive screening and data management. It has been designed to foster privacy whilst ensuring accurate collection of only relevant data for the purposes of virus screening.

What measures can be implemented alongside screening technology?

The World Health Organisation says that screening should be one of a combination of measures employed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. A few other measures to employ include:

Address risks. Together with employees, examine the various risks, touch points, and vulnerabilities within your work environments and strategise to mitigate those risks.

Work from home. Where it is possible for workers to conduct their duties from home, they should not be compelled to come in to work.

Self-screening. Workers who cannot work from home should be encouraged to self-screen, especially where they have a long commute. This reduces the chance of contact where someone believes they may be infected.

Distancing. While two-metre distancing may be relaxed in future, distancing is one way to minimise infections. This can be achieved through redesigned workspaces, staggered hours, funnelling busy walkways, and addressing potential bottleneck areas.

Virus and bacterial control. COVID-19 can remain infectious on inanimate objects from hours to days. Conducting regular fogging or deep cleans and automated UV control can serve to decontaminate touch points and work environments.

You can read the Government’s guidance on working safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matthew Margetts

Matthew Margetts

Matthew Margetts is a Director at Smarter Technologies and brings experience in media and technology spanning more than 25 years. His background includes working for blue-chip companies such as AppNexus, AOL/ Verizon, and Microsoft in the UK, Far East and Australia.
Matthew Margetts

Matthew Margetts is a Director at Smarter Technologies and brings experience in media and technology spanning more than 25 years. His background includes working for blue-chip companies such as AppNexus, AOL/ Verizon, and Microsoft in the UK, Far East and Australia.