Business testing programme still vital part of local response

Published Thursday 20 May 2021 at 9:41

As Blackburn with Darwen Council continues its response to the coronavirus pandemic, no stone is being left unturned in attempts to bring the virus under control – including an ongoing rapid testing programme for local businesses.

Blackburn with Darwen businesses are  encouraged to sign up to participate in the regular, free rapid workplace testing to help protect their employees and stop the spread of the virus.

The local testing team will not only provide delivered lateral flow kits and PPE but are also available to support with on-site training and advice on setting up workplace testing.

One local firm – a metal fabrication company, employing over 950 people across the group, has said workplace Covid testing helped keep them open during the pandemic.

WEC, which is based in Darwen and has nine sites across the Group, said testing asymptomatic staff on a weekly basis as part of the SMART workplace testing scheme has boosted morale and has made the employees feel safer.

Sean Connor, Group Health and Safety Manager, said the pandemic has meant an influx of work for the company.

He said:

We have worked through since the start of the pandemic. We have fabricated over 10,000 ventilator trolleys and key medical equipment for various Nightingale Hospitals across the country. We’ve also created a lot of bed frames for the Nightingale Hospital in Birmingham.

Each order was for 3,000 beds. Each day when we came to work we could see all the medical equipment lined up and it really hit home. Thankfully that equipment was never used in the end, but at the time the prospect was daunting.

In the beginning, we were struggling with people on site when people had symptoms. People were scared. We fabricated our own foot-controlled hand sanitising machines, bought tests for those working in close contact and tried to tackle things head on.

The approach worked – with WEC recording record turnover figures for the first quarter of 2021 despite challenging trading conditions. Not only have they won new customers, but they have also provided an essential service.

The company were approached by Blackburn with Darwen Council regarding SMART workplace testing – which involved designated members of the team being trained in how to supervise staff testing – which they signed up to. The Army trained four members of the team and since then the workforce have been carrying out testing at each of their sites.

Sean said:

It’s allowed people to feel more confident in work. It’s been a very positive step and is an easy process to maintain. The asymptomatic tests are looking for evidence of the virus, even if people feel fine.

Because we have people moving across the site, it gives people the reassurance that it’s safe to do so. It also allows us to have apprentices on site from the College.

At first it was time consuming because it was all new. Now that we have learnt how to streamline everything the process has become a lot quicker, and it has helped us keep people in work.

We initially carried out the testing on Mondays or Tuesdays following the weekend. It was taking about two hours to do over 200 tests and it ran like clockwork. We were calling people by department, so it would only take a few minutes from their day. We’ve now started to gradually phase this out in line with the government’s easing of lockdown restrictions but we have tests available on the spur of the moment if anyone is showing any symptoms. We’re also ready to resume mass testing on short notice, should the need arise again.

Sean said they get ongoing support and updates from Blackburn with Darwen Council who ensure they have adequate supplies.

He added:

You’re not just left alone once you sign up, you have the Council’s ongoing support.

Morale is a lot better as a result of the testing. People feel safer and it keeps people focused on their work. It helps to keep the production flowing.

We know we are doing everything we can to help stop the spread of the virus and protect our community.

For more information on business testing visit the dedicated Covid testing pages of the Council’s website.

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