Due to the demand surge resulting from the rapid development of COVID-19 across the globe and here at home, Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) have become a coveted commodity. This article provides information on the appropriate use of PPEs and provides guidelines on the successful procurement of certified PPEs for our workforce.
Many governments, health authorities, and private firms such as Cushman & Wakefield have recommended that anyone preparing a building after a period of reduced activity due to COVID-19 should be provided with the appropriate PPEs such as masks, gloves, eye protection, and coveralls. In their recently released Relaunch Strategy, the Government of Alberta is encouraging the use of masks when you are in specified public spaces (rules and guidance are yet to be announced) or are unable to maintain proper physical distancing. With many of our workplaces reopening this month and public spaces expected to open in tandem, the demand for masks is likely going to keep growing. As such, this article will focus on masks to provide information on the 5 W’s on their procurement and use.
What are they?
Masks are PPE devices that act as a physical barrier as well as filter to stop biohazards in their tracks. Common forms of masks include procedure masks, N95, and KN95 masks. Certified masks provide at least 95% BFE (Bacterial Filtration Efficiency) which is where they get their name from.
Why wear masks?
Most certified masks provide protection against airborne biohazards. Since the main method of transmission of COVID-19 is through the air via aerosolized droplets, masks provide effective defense by erecting a physical barrier. Widespread and public use of masks have been a critical component of combating COVID-19 in countries that are further along in the recovery process than Canada.
Who should wear masks?
Anyone at risk for transmission are encouraged to wear masks. This is especially true for the types of staff that engage in social interactions as part of their duties where physical distancing of 2 metres cannot be achieved. Building protocols may require third party contractors and building guests to wear masks to reduce the risk of transmission from outside parties.
When and where should we wear masks?
Masks should always be worn when the threat of transmission is present, especially if you are unable to practice physical distancing. Masks may also become a requirement in some public spaces and mass transit as our province reopens. They can be worn anywhere inside and outside properties.
How can we procure masks?
During normal circumstances masks are available from most distributor vendors. However, due to the scarcity resulting from high demand in the current market, supply and procurement managers should exercise caution when selecting vendors. CE and/or FDA certifications should be presented for all masks to ensure that the PPEs are legitimate and do not pose a risk to the users. Non-medical masks that meet these standards are available and can be utilized by the private sector. In addition, the distributor should be a Licensed Establishment under Health Canada’s Medical Devices Establishment License (MDEL). This license is a requirement to import these products into Canada.
Although they are easy to make, homemade cloth masks (and some reusable masks) are limited in their protective properties. Furthermore, unless very strict decontamination parameters where prescribed amounts of UV and Hydrogen Peroxide are present, reusable masks significantly decline in their protective properties with each decontamination cycle. This is because the fibers that are responsible for filtration degrades as duration and cycle of use increases. Should you choose to wear homemade/reusable face covering, please refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s guide for appropriate use.
To stop the spread of COVID we should rely on science and facts to prevent further transmission and infections. While practicing physical distancing and hand washing are effective tools to flatten the curve and reduces transmission in the general population, PPEs at the workplace form a last line defense that greatly reduces the risk of transmission when used properly. For more information please contact Jerry Gao (Vice Chair of BOMA EH&S Committee and Founder of LEAF, a Licensed Establishment under Health Canada) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submitted on behalf of the BOMA EH&S Committee