Health and safety organisations call for respirator register

Thursday, 02 July, 2020

Health and safety organisations call for respirator register

A coalition of workplace health and safety related organisations across Australia and New Zealand and the ACTU have called for the urgent establishment of a register for approved respirators (face masks). The group states that the presence of non-compliant, fake and faulty disposable masks is an immediate threat to the health and safety of workers.

Andrew Orfanos, President of the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists, said there was an immediate and urgent case for the federal government to intervene to protect Australians’ health, describing the situation as “out of hand”.

“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic our market has been flooded with more than 100 million respirators of different types and standards, and amongst the suitable products are fake, faulty, counterfeit and substandard products. Australian businesses are rightly confused about which ones are suitable. They need to know what they’re buying, and the government needs to get a handle on this issue” said Orfanos.

Orfanos explained that the coalition’s Guide to Buying P2, or Equivalent, Respirators for use in the Australian & New Zealand Work Environment has been developed to help businesses navigate their way through a messy issue before purchasing face masks. However, Orfanos warns that the guide will help but is not enough, calling for national leadership.

“Fixing the problem is straightforward if the government chooses to act. We need a register and an approval process which is properly regulated,” said Orfanos.

Naomi Kemp, Chair of the Australian Institute of Health and Safety, explained, “Most people make an assumption that if they find a face mask for sale in Australia, that it has been assessed and met a standard. This is not true. Too many groups are taking advantage of a voluntary system and creating confusion. This is bad for the genuine, reputable suppliers, it’s bad for the businesses that purchase the products, and it’s bad for the people who use them.”

Kemp stated that the dangers of unapproved respirators extend beyond the risks of exposure to and transmission of COVID-19, citing last season’s bushfires and cases of black lung and silicosis, which cause workplace deaths. “With the flood of new products onto the market, we now have fake and nonconforming face masks potentially being misused in these environments as well,” said Kemp.

“The pandemic has focused attention on masks as an essential piece of protective equipment with huge potential to save lives and prevent transmission. However, it has also made clear that regulation of PPE is grossly inadequate to ensure that the masks that Australian workers are using are up to the task,” said Liam O’Brien, Assistant Secretary of the ACTU.

O’Brien asserts that Australian workers should be able to rely on a simple set of standards that clarify which masks are safe to use. “Without clear and simple regulation on this issue, Australian workers and the community at large will continue to be put at risk,” he said.

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