The Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS) finally issued a directive on wearing N95 masks in hot zones nearly eleven months after the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec – FIQ and FIQ | Secteur privé demanded it for its members. The Ministry’s position parrots the new requirements of the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) that were made public the day before. The Federations have been fighting for their members’ safety since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two legal actions initiated by the Federations are still underway in the courts.
“It’s excellent news for healthcare professionals’ rights. The FIQ and FIQP were the first union organizations to demand that the most basic precautionary principle be applied in the health network. Healthcare professionals knew before scientific reports were published that the virus was transmitted by aerosol because they are in the field and first-hand witnesses. This news is a bit of a relief what with the variants that could do even more damage in the network,” said Nancy Bédard, FIQ President.
However, the FIQ and FIQP are disappointed that it is limited to hot zones only. What’s more, it is surprising that the CNESST doesn’t echo the same findings as its own experts at the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé in occupational health and safety (OHS) regarding access to N95 masks in warm zones. Patients suspected of being infected with COVID-19 are just as likely to transmit the virus as patients in hot zones. The same requirements for hot zones
should apply. The Federations also wonder why the MSSS continues to look to the Institut national de santé publique for OHS guidelines when this expertise comes from the CNESST.
“For months now, the Federations have been denouncing the lack of leadership from government authorities to ensure protection for healthcare professionals and the public. The CNESST however has not played the role we would have expected of it since the beginning of the pandemic: to protect healthcare professionals and the public. What’s more, Quebec was unable to stand out as an example for how it managed the pandemic due to its failure to implement a culture of prevention in the health and social services network. Quebec’s healthcare professionals have had the highest rate of infection in the country. When will public decision-makers and network managers learn from their mistakes? Applying the precautionary principle is just common sense,” continued Linda Lapointe, Vice-President, FIQ OHS Sector.
The Federations demand that from now on the CNESST be the authority responsible for occupational health and safety in the health and social services network. The CNESST needs to send a clear message to institution managers that there will be no more compromises made at the expense of healthcare professionals.
“If it hadn’t been for the FIQ and FIQP’s leadership and pressure tactics for N95 masks, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We won this first round for our members’ rights and safety. The battle is ongoing to convince network managers to let healthcare professionals exercise their clinical judgement regarding what protective equipment is needed,” concluded Sonia Mancier, President of the FIQ | Secteur privé.