Mass testing via real-time RT-PCR and workplace health and safety measures can save workers’ lives

The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development called on employers to prioritize workers’ health and safety and denounced plans to use antibody rapid test kits to facilitate return to work after the enhanced community quarantine ends on April 30. IOHSAD claimed that testing workers for COVID-19 using antibody rapid test kits is dangerous and will not ensure the prevention of the virus’ spread in the workplace.

“Workers are not virus-proof. They are most vulnerable in the workplaces that do not comply with safety and health standards. Employers should conduct mass testing using real-time RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) that deliver more reliable results than rapid test kits. We advise workers to demand being tested with real-time RT-PCR before agreeing to return to work,” said Nadia De Leon IOHSAD Executive Director.

IOHSAD expressed its concern with Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion’s announcement that business organizations will utilize antibody rapid test kits on workers and residents of communities near factories. Concepcion stressed that the test results will help employers identify who among workers are fit to return to work. He called the business sector’s testing program as Project ARK (Antibody Rapid test Kits) inspired by Noah’s Ark, a Bible story which involves a big boat that carried Noah, his family and different animals to save them from the big flood.

IOHSAD challenged Concepcion and other business leaders to truly follow Noah’s example of saving lives and not put the workers in danger by using unreliable rapid test kits. IOHSAD said that these rapid test kits measure the antibodies IgG and IgM which only increase in number after a person gets infected with COVID-19. These antibodies, however, will reach a significant number only after 14-22 days from the day of infection. Utilizing these antibody rapid test kits will give workers who tested “negative” a false sense of security that they are COVID-free and are healthy and safe to return to work.

“We call on employers to contribute in expanding the country’s capacity to conduct mass testing through real-time RT-PCR. Workers’ lives matter and their health and safety should be ensured at all times,” added De Leon.

IOHSAD also challenged employers to set-up preventive and control measures to ensure that workplaces are COVID-free and workers are safe before they return to work. Companies who fail to establish OSH preventive and control measures should not be allowed to return to “business as usual”. The workplace safety group called on the employers to carry out the following OSH measures:

  • Provide workers with proper personal protective equipment (PPE) including face masks that they can use outside the workplace;
  • Provide transportation / shuttle services to all employees to ensure social distancing;
  • Ensure the presence of a physician or health personnel in the workplace to strictly monitor workers’ health and safety at work at all times;
  • Regular, safe and efficient disinfection in the workplace;
  • Provide accessible hand washing areas with soap and water, and remind workers about the importance of frequent hand washing;
  • Conduct regular information campaign on how to prevent the spread of COVID in the workplace;
  • Draft and implement specific OSH guidelines in the workplace if a worker or someone suspected or confirmed of having COVID has been in the workplace;
  • Management should shoulder curative expenses of workers who have been infected with COVID and assist them in availing compensation from the Employees’ Compensation Commission (ECC) 

“COVID-19 has already claimed the lives of so many frontline health workers. Non-compliance with OSH standards, such as failure to provide proper PPE to protect frontline health workers, has resulted in many painful deaths. This should send a clear message to employers to place workers’ health and safety first before profit,” ended De Leon.##