It is well known that substance abuse in the workplace can damage your business. It can result in accidents, a loss in productivity, absenteeism and days off due to ill health, in addition to creating an intimidating work environment. AlphaBiolabs has been helping keep workplaces safe by conducting onsite and laboratory-based drug and alcohol testing since 2004. As well as instant on-site testing, our experienced workplace team can help you implement policies, provide training in all aspects of illicit drug and alcohol testing and collection procedures, sell the testing equipment and provide reassurance with same day laboratory confirmatory results.
When lockdown hit the UK in March, many companies across the country were forced to cease their drug and alcohol testing. In fact, as we know, businesses completely shut down and employees were sent home. At AlphaBiolabs, our sample collectors were no longer able to access sites for random collections, and visitors to our nationwide Walk-in Centres were stopped due to them being situated in NHS buildings which were also closed to the public. Yet instead of halting operations, using our scientific and laboratory capabilities, AlphaBiolabs diversified into COVID-19 PCR and antibody testing as a way of continuing to support our loyal customers by ensuring their workforces were safe to carry on working.
The first step was to make sure AlphaBiolabs’ staff were safe to continue working under these new and difficult conditions. Increased demands for drug and alcohol testing from Children’s Services and the family law courts, meant that our in-house laboratory was busier than ever. To manage this, split shifts were implemented so laboratory personnel could keep working whilst observing social distancing guidelines. Class II biological safety cabinets were installed to ensure all incoming samples could be safely analysed. Mechanical air ventilation systems, additional PPE and automatic integrated temperature monitoring and alert systems were placed in our reception so all scientists entering our building were afforded extra protection. Additional safety protocols were introduced into our sample collection process, with the mandatory use of PPE for sample collectors and sample donors, and regular COVID-19 antibody screening providing extra reassurance. With these extra procedures in place, AlphaBiolabs’ award-winning laboratory was able to maintain service levels for its toxicology analytical services (urine, oral fluid, nail clipping and hair samples).
Onsite COVID-19 antibody testing
AlphaBiolabs was one of the first UK companies to create a COVID-19 antibody testing kit. Antibody testing analyses a blood sample to determine whether someone has been infected by the COVID-19 virus. The AlphaBiolabs scientific team performed an extensive review of the technical data of all COVID-19 immunoassay devices available and determined the German-made IgM-IgG Combined Antibody Rapid Test was the most accurate and reliable.
The rapid screening kit can identify the coronavirus infection from 21 days after exposure to the virus or 7 days onwards after the onset of symptoms. In addition to being widely used in Germany to identify a body’s response to COVID-19 infections, the reliability and accuracy of the antibody screening kit was deemed ‘fit for use’ during a recent NHS evaluation.
The AlphaBiolabs rapid IgM-IgG combined antibody test for COVID-19 is a portable lateral flow immunoassay instant screening device, which makes it ideal for on-site use. The CE-marked, single use test analyses a finger-prick blood sample to detect a body’s immunological response to an active or recent exposure to COVID-19. It does this by detecting both early and late marker antibodies.
The detection of IgM antibodies indicates a current ongoing COVID-19 infection. Detection of IgG antibodies indicates a later stage of infection. Thus, this combined antibody test can provide information on the stage of infection, highlighting a recent infection that may still be active (IgM) or a previous infection (IgG). However, when using this test, employers must be mindful that there isn’t yet any clinical evidence to prove immunity, if someone has had a COVID-19 infection before, or indeed how long any potential immunity may last. Although it can be useful to build up a profile of staff who have been infected, in case having a previous COVID-19 infection does indeed prove to hold some kind of future immunity.
What the antibody test can show is whether COVID-19 has spread through a workforce. This can help managers identify high-risk environments and spot patterns of infection. Measures can then be put in place to minimise future risks of exposure. The whole test takes less than 15 minutes to perform and to obtain your employees results. There is no need to send samples to a laboratory for further analysis.
Antigen (nose and throat) rt PCR COVID-19 testing
AlphaBiolabs also provides a COVID-19 PCR Swab Test for its workplace customers.
This antigen test looks for evidence that the COVID-19 virus is actively present in the individual being tested, by detecting the presence of viral RNA in a swab sample taken from a person’s nose and/ or throat.
Unlike the COVID-19 antibody test, no blood sample is needed. The sample collection involves the use of a sterile viral collection swab (which looks like an extra-long cotton wool bud) to collect a sample from the nasal and/ or throat areas. The sample collection is easy to carry out, but it can cause some discomfort when the swab is rubbed in these tender areas. Sample collection kits can be mailed out so that employees can administer the COVID-19 PCR test themselves. Alternatively, AlphaBiolabs’ sample collectors, a company nurse or occupational health professional can perform the collection.
When returned to AlphaBiolabs’ the COVID-19 samples are tested using the latest cutting-edge automated PCR extraction methods. A process called real time polymerase chain reaction (rt PCR) is employed. If there is viral RNA present, the rt PCR process starts a ‘chain reaction’ to create billions of copies of the genetic material contained within the virus. This ensures there is enough genetic material available to be analysed by scientists, to enable a positive coronavirus result to be obtained. In the event of no COVID-19 RNA being detected, AlphaBiolabs will report the sample as being negative. Results can be returned within 1–2 working days from receipt of the COVID-19 samples being delivered to our dedicated COVID-19 testing laboratory. Employees with negative results can safely return to work. Any asymptomatic carriers can be immediately isolated and removed from the workplace to avoid future spread.
Together, with a range of other safety measures, including sanitising stations, socially-distanced desks and staggered shifts, regular testing for the COVID-19 virus or COVID-19 specific antibodies can enhance confidence and provide assurance for your employees, customers and business partners. Absenteeism can be reduced due to unnecessary self-isolation, and increased productivity. COVID-19 testing can also support workplace risk assessments and enhance safety measures. In addition, knowing that the pandemic is being taken seriously will give staff more confidence to return to the workplace.