Lack of PPE puts workers at risk of infection and disease
25 Nov 2021
Today’s announcement about Covid care in the community means that New Zealanders need to be confident that community support workers, who will increasingly be coming into contact with Covid positive people, have the PPE they need including N95 masks, aprons, gloves, and all other adequate PPE for covid infection prevention.
PSA and E tū are the unions for thousands of care and support workers who provide essential health support to people in their own homes.
These care workers are at risk because the gloves being provided to them to deliver personal care are breaking, exposing workers to bodily fluids and putting them at risk of infection and disease.
Southland care and support worker and union member , Samantha says, "It’s not acceptable that we have to wear food grade gloves. Food grade gloves don’t protect us from anything - they roll down our wrists and they break at the fingertips. Sometimes I wear two pairs but even then there’s no guarantee that will protect us from faeces and bodily fluids."
"You would never see a healthcare worker in a hospital or GP practice wearing food gloves - it’s totally unthinkable. So why does the Ministry of Health think it’s ok for us?"
"Care and support workers are in every community in New Zealand and we are not being protected from Covid or anything else. We need the appropriate PPE, now!"
Another union member and support worker, from Northland, agrees. "We go from home to home providing essential care and support services to vulnerable clients, but the work we do is often misunderstood, and we are treated as the second-class citizens of the health system, when the system couldn’t work without us."
A care and support worker and union member, who doesn’t want to be named, says the gloves are not appropriate or acceptable for using when caring for clients. "They tear or rip and do not come up far enough on the wrist, which means we get water in them.
"Personal cares with my clients are difficult enough, without constantly having to worry about my own safety when bodily fluids get into my gloves. This is a serious health and safety issue."
"Like every other support worker, I hope that the providers of these gloves are informed and brought up to speed with the differences between food grade gloves and medical grade gloves - we’re not making sandwiches."
E tū health director Kirsty McCully says that despite raising the matter with their employers, the Ministry of Health and chief nurse, workers are being told the gloves are safe. "This simply isn’t their experience. Home support workers put themselves at risk to care for the most vulnerable in our communities at home. That risk increases with Covid circulating in the community too."
Kirsty says workers need to be listened to: "The health risks they face become risks to everyone eventually, if not managed properly."
PSA national sector lead Jocelyn Pratt says, "It is shameful that the Ministry of Health is not following its own health and safety guidelines and putting these workers and clients at risk."
"The gloves used for serving food at a school fundraiser are not the same as the gloves needed when you are providing intimate care for a vulnerable client."
Jocelyn says these frontline essential workers should be treated with dignity, "This work force is publicly funded but the basic health and safety protections are not being provided to them."