About your organisation
EDF is Britain’s biggest generator of zero carbon electricity, meeting around one-fifth of the country’s demand and supplying millions of customers with electricity and gas.
We generate low carbon electricity from eight nuclear power stations, more than thirty onshore wind farms and two offshore wind farms and operate one of Britain’s biggest battery storage units.
What prompted your decision to implement workplace testing?
EDF is a key part of Britain’s Critical National Infrastructure because we supply 15% of the country’s electricity. From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic we knew we must do everything we could to prevent an outbreak at any of our operating sites and so introduced strict control measures and actively managed risks associated with being onsite.
As part of this work, we established a more precautionary testing regime in January 2020 than was available to us through the NHS.
How did your workplace testing journey begin?
As soon as commercial testing became available, we placed a contract for back-to-laboratory PCR testing. However, in early autumn 2020 this back-to-laboratory service struggled in terms of turnaround times and so we started to look for other options.
We needed more testing options that fulfilled a number of different criteria. We needed a test that we could administer quickly on site to screen visitors or to quickly assess site risk, and we needed a testing option that allowed us to test in bulk, either as an outbreak response or as regular testing if disease prevalence was high.
We found an onsite solution in a point of care test PCR machine, which will process single tests in 45 mins or a pooled sample of five in 45 minutes. These tests are not as accurate as back-to-lab PCR tests but perform better than other point of care tests.
EDF was aware that other organisations were using LAMP (Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification) as a quicker and lower cost laboratory method to test for COVID-19. Our provider gave us the perfect opportunity for EDF to use LAMP testing as they offered a managed testing system which meant that all swabs which test positive on LAMP are then tested on PCR and if still positive were reported directly to public health authorities. In addition, 20% of negative LAMP tests are also run through PCR tests for quality assurance. Our provider developed an app and a portal where those tested could enter their details, see information about how to swab, how we use their data and then register their tests as they take them. They then receive their results, if they are negative, via the app and a follow up text message. EDF has purchased two LAMP laboratories which are operating in support of our sites in outage, protecting the site and the wider community from COVID-19.
EDF has been proactive when it comes to testing for COVID-19. The company has been prepared to be tenacious in looking at the scientific evidence as it emerges and then using that knowledge to ensure we protected our vulnerable, all of our people and our plants. I am extremely proud to have been a part of that.— Dr Sarah Jackson, Principal Medical Officer, Generation, EDF
Talk us through your process for adopting workplace testing
None of the tests for COVID-19 are perfect. The test is only as good as when the swab was taken. This means that you could test negative in the morning, as the viral load was below the limit of detection for that test, but then in the afternoon as the virus replicated in the body you could test positive. Not all people develop the virus at the same rate, so testing needs to consider the development period.
Our priorities were to protect our staff and our ability to generate the low carbon power the country needs. So, we developed an extremely cautious testing strategy.
We went above and beyond NHS requirements. If a staff member or visitor had been in contact with an NHS confirmed negative symptomatic individual, or displayed three or more viral symptoms which did not meet the NHS criteria for coronavirus symptoms, we required two negative tests before allowing that individual to return to site.
Volunteers from our Occupational Health and First Aid teams were trained in testing and administrating tests. We ran exercises to practice what we would do in the event of an outbreak and the need for mass testing.
We developed policy and processes in support of onsite and back-to-lab testing and learned quickly about timing courier collections to ensure samples reached the lab as quickly as possible from the moment they were taken.
We quickly realised that technology could help us to speed up the flow of data and ensure accuracy was maintained. All our testing is now recorded in our personnel administration system and data is bulk uploaded from the laboratory IT system, ensuring we capture all our testing data. This will allow us to interrogate our testing strategy and learn lessons for the future – a vital part of our industry is learning lessons when you have operational experience. We feel we did that.
What do you do if an employee tests positive?
Anyone at one of our sites who tests positive is immediately isolated in accordance with the government’s guidance. We then undertake an immediate thorough track and trace onsite and then deep clean any areas the individual has visited. Close contacts are isolated in line with government guidance, more distant contacts are then also tested as a precaution.
How did you communicate your workplace testing plans with your staff and what was the response?
Throughout COVID-19 we have provided regular video briefs, written and verbal briefs to teams on changing measures, protections and testing regimes. Because our business is split across multiple sites and geographies, we worked hard to align the central messages we were issuing, but also that they were relevant, e.g., not providing English advice in Scotland. We have also ensured that they were kept up to date with significant events at their sites and across the company. To ensure buy in from our teams, we also involved trades unions as early as we could, so that key messages, particularly on the importance of testing, were coming from multiple sources.
What has the result been?
Like every business we have had numerous COVID-19 cases across the company. But there have been no confirmed workplace transmission cases and, critically, we have managed the risks so that at no point in the past year has COVID-19 impacted our ability to provide low-carbon electricity.
What top tips would you give to businesses who haven’t yet begun workplace testing?
- Establish your business’ risk appetite – can you afford to shut down for a prolonged period if there was an outbreak?
- Think long term. If there was a significant wave of COVID-19, could your company access commercially supplied, or even government testing, in a period of high demand?
- Can you afford to wait for results? If yes, access offsite testing systems with a high degree of accuracy. If you cannot wait, and can afford to do so, consider point of care tests which deliver PCR analysis. If you can’t wait and don’t have the resources for more accurate testing, make use of the government’s offer to supply lateral flow tests - but be aware of their limitations
- Investing in testing has given EDF the ability to catch potential issues early, and minimise business impacts but it has also enabled us to be able to reassure our teams that we are just as concerned about their welfare as they are.