13 Jun 2020

Nurses Union wants safety assurances after concerns about millions of masks

6:28 am on 13 June 2020

The Nurses Union says it wants assurances from the Ministry of Health that hospital workers are safe after it pulled millions of masks over quality concerns.

A worker produces medical N95 masks at a mask production company in Shenyang, China, on February 8, 2020.

A worker produces medical N95 masks at a mask production company in Shenyang, China, on February 8, 2020. Photo: Xinhua / Yao Jianfeng / AFP

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has withdrawn almost five million masks purchased from China because of inconsistencies in labelling and certifications.

It said because of global pressure on supply lines, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks were purchased quickly and often from different sources than those usually used in the health sector.

It has asked district health boards (DHBs) not to use them it while checks they're up to scratch and gets more information from suppliers.

It said it does not mean the masks are non-compliant.

The MOH said the masks are N95 and procedure masks.

Kate Weston from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation said it had prompted fears hospital staff were working in unsafe conditions.

"We need to know our members - health care workers, nurses, midwives, health care assistants and other health professions - are actually safe at work.

"It is a health and safety issue."

The MOH said New Zealand continued to have a sufficient supply of PPE, with national stores and DHB reserves holding 50 million masks, and it said another 90 million masks were on order.

RNZ asked the MOH whether it had quality concerns about the 90 million masks on order.

It said steps were being taken to improve policies and procedures for securing PPE.

Faulty products costing governments millions

Infectious disease expert Siouxsie Wiles said there was a massive problem worldwide with countries buying defective Covid-19 protective gear and testing equipment.

Wiles says faulty equipment has cost governments a fortune.

"There are inferior products on the market and because everybody is clamouring for the same thing.

"Because there is a worldwide need for PPE, for kits of every resource, that people are ending up spending millions and millions and millions of dollars on things that are not fit for purpose."

Cause of non-compliant masks entering New Zealand

The NZ Occupational Hygiene Society (NZOHS) said ashortage of disposable respirators, also called 'dust masks', caused by high global demand during the Covid-19 pandemic, has led to non-compliant masks entering New Zealand.

NZ Occupational Hygiene Society president Carol McSweeney.

Photo: Supplied

NZOHS president Carol McSweeney said the non-compliant masks put workers, including construction and manufacturing workers, at risk of inhaling dust, fibres, fumes and other contaminants that could seriously harm their health.

"It's essential that businesses buying respirators for their workers, or retailers buying them to on-sell, know how to identify genuine masks," McSweeney said.

"Otherwise they may be buying masks that claim to provide protection that is not actually there.

"Signs a respirator is not compliant include it having no markings to identify the safety standard it meets, no manufacturers' name or logo, no references to certifying bodies and unusual designs."

WorkSafe in May issued an alert about non-compliant respirators entering the country.

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