Open letter to Deputy First Minister of Scotland Mr John Swinney
The British Occupational Hygiene Society sent an Open Letter to John Swinney, MSP, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary For Education and Skills to express concern about alarming trends in the latest Office for National Statistics figures on COVID-19 deaths and warn of dire consequences if better protection of workers from COVID-19 infection is not put in place.
29 January 2021
Dear Mr Swinney
Use of Medical Grade Respirators for COVID-19 protection
We write on behalf of the British Occupational Hygiene Society, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection, and a leading authority on the use of respiratory protection. Throughout the pandemic our members in industry, academia and expert advisory roles have been leading the work to ensure that there is proper protection for workers.
We have been very impressed by the unflinching attitude of the Scottish Government to implementing the best scientific advice for the protection of people in Scotland. It is in this spirit that we take the unprecedented step of writing openly to you in order to address the growing crisis in the protection of Scottish workers.
The data from the recent ONS bulletin relating to COVID-19 deaths and occupations are generally consistent with the growing body of epidemiologic evidence showing the significantly increased risk of contracting COVID-19 from work.
In the light of the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics on COVID-19 mortality by occupation, we are writing to ask you to mandate the use of FFP2 and FFP3 respiratory protection for all healthcare workers, those in public-facing roles, alongside any roll-out of “medical grade” masks to the general public.This should not be done in isolation, but in conjunction with a systematic review of other control measures, including ventilation, engineering controls and social distancing.
Following discussions with bodies such as the Infection Prevention Society and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, we believe that many of the risks in the healthcare setting arise from the complex non-clinical and support functions within hospitals. We believe that occupational hygiene management should extend beyond normal patient-facing infection prevention controls and address management of COVID-19 in other areas such as receipt of deliveries, catering and cleaning staff and all non-clinical aspects of the workplace.
As highlighted by recent correspondence to the Journal of Occupational Medicine, healthcare workers in Scotland, who are at higher risk of infection than the general public, are still being issued only with fluid resistant surgical masks. This is insufficient, given all the evidence of airborne transmission risks and the data of infection. This is confirmed by the Health and Safety Executive’s own assessment, which can be found at https://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr619.pdf. Filtering Facepiece or powered respirators should be a requirement if we are not to put at risk those people who we rely on to support the health of others.
At the same time, our experience of supporting the health service is that even those trained in infection control have struggled to manage fitting respirators. Thus, in addition, there needs to be provision of proper training in wearing, testing of adequate fit and maintenance of respirators to render them effective. In our view, without proper fitting and maintenance, the effectiveness of FFP2 and FFP3 respirators will be compromised.
We also draw your attention to higher mortality rates among workers, other than those in public-facing roles, including those working in manufacturing, production lines and engineering. Clearly, there is a need for more effective communication of the appropriate controls, and we stand ready to assist with this in whatever way we can.
Signed on behalf of the British Occupational Hygiene Society,
Kelvin Williams, Chartered Occupational Hygienist, Kelvin Williams Ltd, President of the British Occupational Hygiene Society
Alison Margary, Chartered Occupational Hygienist, Margary Wade Ltd, President Elect of the British Occupational Hygiene Society
John Dobbie, Regional Industrial Hygiene Director, Past President of the British Occupational Hygiene Society
Raymond Agius, Emeritus Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
Dr Rob Aitken, CEO of the Institute of Occupational Medicine
Professor John Cherrie, Principal Scientist, Institute of Occupational Medicine, Past President of the British Occupational Hygiene Society
Adrian Hirst, Chartered Occupational Hygienist, Hirst Consulting Ltd, Past President of the British Occupational Hygiene Society
Adrian Sims, Managing Director, Vent-Tech Ltd, Director, WorkSafe Design Limited, Specialist Member (MFOH(S)) of the British Occupational Hygiene Society
Professor Kevin Bampton, CEO of the British Occupational Hygiene Society