NSWNMA wins fit testing for mask wearers
The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association has achieved a win in its campaign for better protection of health workers dealing with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients.
The Clinical Excellence Commission (CEC) has ruled that all NSW public sector health workers wearing P2/N95 masks must be fit tested.
Fit testing is done to ensure that a specific make, model and size of respirator achieves an adequate seal against the face of an individual wearer.
The union has been campaigning for fit testing since March.
An NSWNMA survey revealed that almost half the state’s nurses required to wear a P2 or N95 mask had not been tested to ensure they fitted properly.
NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes described the CEC decision as “an important win for members and a great achievement for those who have been active in the campaign to ensure safety at work”.
“It is a huge acknowledgement of the importance of fit testing in protecting healthcare workers by reducing the risk of potential exposure to any pathogens.”
He advised members: “If your management has not already implemented fit testing in line with these new requirements, it’s important for you to let us know and we can make it happen together.”
The CEC is the lead agency supporting safety improvement in the NSW health system.
The CEC said all Local Health Districts must implement respirator fit testing in their facilities for all workers performing respiratory aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) on patients with COVID-19 or providing clinical services to patients on airborne precautions in high-risk areas.
The CEC said health workers required to wear a respirator must be trained and assessed for competency in the use of all PPE as part of an ongoing training program.
Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) is one of the first districts in the state to implement fit testing.
NSWNMA Shoalhaven branch vice-president Max Moore, a clinical nurse specialist, is one of 10 staff members across the ISLHD who have been trained to use a PortaCount machine to test whether their colleagues’ masks are properly sealed.
Max told a union online seminar that the COVID-19 outbreak prompted the branch to strengthen its capacity to push for improved PPE.
The branch expanded its executive from three members to about 20 by mapping Shoalhaven District Hospital to identify NSWNMA members interested in playing a more active role by becoming stewards for their ward or unit.
The expanded executive makes use of frequent WhatsApp chats in between monthly meetings.
Max said that with changing COVID guidelines, “our group chat was continually going off with questions about PPE and fit testing”.
He said the NSWNMA asked the LHD to implement fit testing but got a “non-committal answer”.
“Our strengthened branch was able to mobilise the same day and pass a resolution requesting that fit testing be done on all hospital staff required to wear N95 masks.
“We sought an answer by close of business that day and had a back-up resolution to send to the minister for health saying we would be prepared to walk off the job if we had to.”
He said there was no need to send the second resolution because the LHD quickly agreed to fit testing.