Letter of the Day | More safety and health professionals needed
THE EDITOR, Madam:
The Jamaica Occupational Health & Safety Professionals Association (JOHSPA) uses this medium to salute all our healthcare workers, first responders and all workers who continue to provide invaluable service in this time of national crisis. Our thoughts and our prayers are with you.
However, much of the current anxiety and even fear among many of these Jamaican workers in this COVID-19 pandemic is due to the absence of Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health (OESH) professionals in these settings. Whereas we readily recognise the relevance of OESH professionals in traditional heavy industry (factories, construction, etc.), their roles are not as readily recognised in healthcare settings which are increasingly being impacted by novel and exotic diseases.
Additionally, healthcare professionals are known to suffer from the “super being syndrome” whereby in most cases more emphasis is placed on patient care and protection and less on the protection of healthcare professionals. However, the novel diseases of recent times (SARS, MERS, Ebola) have taken the lives of a disproportionate number of healthcare workers relative to the general population. This is inevitable if adequate risk assessment and risk communication are not done both under routine operational conditions and more so during emergencies. This is the clear role of the OESH professional.
The current disagreement between the hierarchy of the Ministry of Health & Wellness and workers at the operational level regarding the availability, adequacy and appropriateness of personal protective equipment (PPE) is a case in point – a situation not unique to Jamaica.
It is only by conducting the risk assessments for the respective activities/tasks that a proper determination can be made as to the rational use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and this must be documented and communicated to the healthcare workers.
As such, workers would be aware when respiratory protection is required and when should a surgical mask be used versus a N95 respirator. A surgical mask, or procedural mask, is meant to protect the environment from the wearer. A respirator, such as an N95, fits tighter to the face and is meant to help protect the wearer from inhaling infectious droplets in the environment.
TRAINED IN USE OF PPE
Equally important, workers should be trained in the use of these respiratory PPE, what they are intended to protect against, their limitations, how to properly put them on/don, how they are to be removed and discarded, etc. Additionally, workers who are required to wear N95 respirators are to be fit-tested before being issued a respirator and only workers, trained as above, should be fit-tested.
Best-practice is that fit-testing should be done annually and at least quarterly under emergency conditions. These workers should also be taught how to test the N95 respirator for effective face-seal each time they don one. This is most important as any tight- fitting respirator is only as effective as how well it fits. This would be routinely done by the OESH professional and workers would be quite experienced in these processes thus increasing their confidence and assurance under emergency conditions. So, the concerns of the healthcare workers and other frontline workers should not be limited to the adequacy and appropriateness of PPE but equally that they be trained in the proper use and limitations of these gear and to be fit-tested if N95 respirator is to be worn.
These are but a few examples of the importance of the input of OESH professionals in the assurance of improved occupational safety and health in healthcare settings and associated work environments, under routine conditions, but more so during emergencies.
Therefore, we all have a vested interest in advocating for the urgent passage of the languishing Occupational Safety and Health Act, as it is geared specifically to address these situations in assuring workers safe and healthy working environments. Our workers deserve no less!
NORBERT E. CAMPBELL