Lateral flow testing within workplaces

This FAQ page is intended for the use of businesses accessing workplace testing using lateral flow devices.

Guidance to help reduce other respiratory infections, including Covid-19, in the workplace is also on this page.

What is lateral flow testing?

Lateral flow testing (LFT) is a quick way to test whether people have Covid-19. It is normally used to test people who do not have symptoms of coronavirus.  

We know that a significant proportion who test positive for coronavirus have no symptoms and can therefore spread it unknowingly. So, testing people without symptoms is an important additional tool to identify people with the virus, and therefore stopping the virus spreading through communities.

Further Government guidance: understanding lateral flow antigen testing for people without symptoms.

What is the difference between PCR and LFT types of testing for Covid-19?

PCR Testing (standard test)

PCR stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing. A swab is used to collect a sample from the patient's tonsils and inside their nose. This is then tested for small fragments of the virus called RNA.

This is then sent to a laboratory where it is processed using specialist equipment. Because it needs to be sent away, the PCR testing takes longer, around one to two days.

Lateral flow testing (rapid test)

As with PCR testing, lateral flow testing (LFT) involves a swab being inserted into the nose or throat. However, instead of sending the sample away the sample can be processed on site. The swab is inserted into a tube of liquid for a short time which extracts any COVID-19 virus.

A few drops of liquid are then dropped onto a small strip. Within 30 minutes, the strip of paper will show up with two lines if it is positive, one line on the top if it is negative or one line on the bottom if the test is invalid.

You can watch this Department of Health video explaining the LFT testing procedure

Guidance on reducing respiratory infections in the workplace has provided information on Reducing the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19, in the workplace

This information is useful for employers, workforce managers (of both paid staff and volunteers) and people who are managing a workplace or organisation.