Tag: SME

An Introduction to Viral Testing for Small Businesses

Source: Pixabay

As the pandemic has progressed, there has been growing public interest in the potentials of testing. With reliable means of detecting whether someone has or has had the virus, we might better adjust not only public policy but our own lives, which have been so abruptly interrupted. There has been endless discussion about the possibilities of immunity for those who have contracted the virus and survived. There have also been doubts about the reliability of rapid testing, which remains the most convenient form of testing for the general public – and for business owners. 

Indeed, for many small businesses, the answers to these questions will be pivotal. However, answering these questions requires at least a minimal knowledge of viral testing and there has been a pitiful lack of accessible information. As part of our campaign to empower small businesses during the pandemic, we thought it might be useful to produce this short and simple introduction to viral testing.

Let’s start with the absolute basics. A virus is parasitic, meaning it cannot survive without a host. Its host is a cell. A virus is chiefly composed of two elements: a nucleic acid molecule and a protein shell. ‘Nucleic acid’ might sound familiar to you, a distant memory from a school classroom where you were given a lecture on DNA – the ‘secret ingredient of life’. It is this element of a virus that is responsible for the replication which can make them so dangerous. 

In order for a virus to replicate, though, it must attach itself to a cell – its host. This is where the protein shell comes in. Think about all of those images of the COVID-19 virus that you will have seen on the news or in articles or on the government’s public safety posters that are now dotted all over the place. The virus has a bunch of ‘spikes’ sticking out of it, right? Well, these are part of the protein shell and they’re the virus’ way of gaining access to a cell. 

They are also what attracts the attention of the body’s immune system. When the body produces antibodies against a virus, it is these protein ‘spikes’ which they are designed to hunt out. This brings us to the first of the two major forms of COVID-19 tests: the antibody test. In an antibody test – like our rapid antibody test -, the filter paper onto which the blood-sample is placed already contains proteins extracted from the COVID-19 virus. If you have the relevant antibodies in your blood, they will react with the proteins on the paper, producing the marks that can be seen on this test from one of our customers:   

Antibody tests have come under fire in the past few months for a number of reasons. (We have a whole blog on the topic, if you’re interested.) But the main concerns revolved around the sensitivity of the tests. Firstly, it takes a while for detectable levels of antibodies to be produced, meaning that antibody tests do not give us a totally comprehensive picture of who currently has the virus. Similarly, in the other direction, it is hard to pinpoint exactly when the levels of antibodies cease to be detectable and whether this has any bearing on immunity, for example. Take a look at this diagram:

Source: iSTOC

However, the picture used above is of a test taken by one of our customers, whose husband had symptoms over 60 days ago, which means that antibody testing might be reliable far beyond the limit previously assumed.

So, what is different about an antigen test? Instead of testing for antibodies which fight the virus, antigen tests are able to detect the genetic material of the virus, that nucleic acid we discussed earlier. Because this genetic material is present as soon as someone is infected, antigen tests offer a more comprehensive picture of who currently has the virus than do antibody tests. However, antigen tests cannot give us information on who has had the virus in the past, which is the added benefit of antibody tests. Such a hard limit to the testing window is reflected in the NHS’ guidance on getting one of their antigen tests:

Source: NHS

We hope that this information clears up a few misconceptions about testing and gives you the confidence to lead your business through the current challenges. For more information, and to view our range of health and safety products, check out our website

An SME’s guide to mitigating infection in the workplace

As an SME, we’ve been eager to find information on managing the risks to our employees’ health. Luckily, there are a number of resources available to small businesses who have already re-opened or are set to reopen in the coming weeks. 

Some of the resources we found most useful can be found on the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Federation of Small Businesses’ websites, including downloadable risk-management checklists, accessible legal guidance and up-to-date reporting on government policy. 

Much of the guidance focusses on changes to work-flow or organisation. For example, maintaining social distancing is an essential requirement for any business operating in the near-future, so you might consider bright floor-markers which guide your employees through their procedures whilst ensuring they are two metres apart. Similarly, the cleaning of surfaces will have to occur more frequently, prompting suggestions to reduce working hours in order to maintain this necessarily high standard of cleanliness. 

In addition to these sorts of changes, improvements in personal hygiene practices while at work will also be required. Instituting protocols such as frequent hand-washing (especially in workplaces which will be serving customers in person), the tying up of long hair and, where possible, a strict separation of work materials between employees, i.e. distributing digital copies of documents instead of sharing physical ones, attempting not to share pens, keyboards, mugs, chairs, etc. A determining factor in the efficacy of these measures appears to be generalising the use of PPE within your workplace. 

One of the most important aspects of new workplace practice is the protocol for determining and reacting to the infection of an employee. Yet, this is a discussion missing from many of the available guides and checklists.

At Lab Solutions, we had an idea. If small businesses had some convenient means to detect infection, they might be able to respond quickly enough to prevent further contamination. That’s why we’re offering Return2Work, a COVID-19 response kit which includes surgical gloves, masks, an external thermometer and a quick blood-test. 

Alongside all the other preventative measures that have been outlined so far, Return2Work’s external thermometer in particular might be a helpful addition to your new health and safety procedures. For example, by monitoring the temperatures of employees as they enter work at the beginning of the day and leave at the end, you can stay abreast of any stark increases. These measurements will then indicate whether someone needs to use Return2Work’s quick blood-test, which will confirm whether the temperature increase is a result of COVID-19. 

Staying aware in this way gives you the freedom to be versatile in your health and safety procedures, tightening or loosening your protocols depending on the results of tests. This versatility is possible because Return2Work gives you both greater power to prevent and respond to infection.

If you feel that Return2Work might be useful for your business or would like further information, visit our website.

How can SMEs mitigate infection risks?

As the country prepares to return to work over the next few months, many small businesses are wary of the risks that doing so poses to their employees. At Lab Solutions, we’ve been eager to find some information on mitigating these risks. Luckily, we found a number of online resources that can provide you with both legal guidance and practical advice. 

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has released a number of downloadable guides for businesses in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These guides relate to a number of specific industries and workplaces. Depending on the nature and size of your business, then, you may have to use a few of these guides in combination. Different guidance is available for education and childcare as well as the transport industry.

Alongside specific guidance for different sectors, a more general checklist has been released. Of primary importance, the checklist states, is carrying out a COVID-19 risk assessment that meets the criteria of the Health and Safety Executive. The organisation has published these criteria alongside further information on generalising hygiene procedures, maintaining social distancing and other practices to ensure the safety of your workplace in this guide

In response to these guidelines, the Federation of Small Businesses has published its own advice to ensure that you have the resources to implement them in an even more diverse range of workplaces. For example, their health and safety checklist includes a discussion of customer safety which considers the possibilities for maintaining social distancing and minimising surface-transmission by altering the layout of your workplace, i.e. separating exit and entrance doors or shifting to a kiosk-style, semi-outdoor way of serving where possible. 

Similarly, the Federation’s Legal Hub – for which you’ll need an account with the organisation – provides free risk assessment templates as well as updates and guidance on the specifics of the law regarding business practices as it evolves over the coming months. Indeed, both the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Federation of Small Businesses offer an invaluable service as news sources for companies at this time.

Using these guides and checklists, we have been able to adapt our business to this new economy without serious losses to productivity and the breadth of information available means that whatever your business, you can adapt, too. Why wait? 

For more information, visit our website.

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