Unions demand action over ’unsafe’ masks

By Siphokazi Vuso Time of article published Dec 21, 2020

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Cape Times - Unions have demanded the recall of KN95 masks following a study conducted by UCT researchers which found that some of the masks distributed to healthcare workers did not meet stipulated requirements.

The study conducted on 36 masks of 12 KN95 brands found that none of them met safety requirements due to poor filtration efficacy and poor seal and filling.

In a statement, Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) president Simon Hlungwani said they are consulting their lawyers in the event that the health department does not withdraw the masks.

“Denosa is demanding the immediate withdrawal of all the masks (as the) safety has not been determined. In case the department refuses to withdraw the masks, Denosa is consulting with its lawyers with the view to legally challenge and prevent the department giving the KN95 masks to its members (nurses) working in Covid-19 units and other high risk areas until the department produces proof that their masks are meeting the safety standards,” he said.

The study is reported to have found that none of the 12 brands of KN95 masks tested met stipulated safety requirements known to prevent infection by dangerous respiratory pathogens including tuberculosis and SARS-CoV-2.

National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) general-secretary Zola Saphetha said they will withdraw labour power in the healthcare centre if all fails.

“We will join our sister union, Denosa, in taking legal action if the government does not sort out this mess with immediate effect. If all fails we will not hesitate to withdraw our labour power in the healthcare sector to save the lives of workers,” Saphetha said.

National health department spokesperson Popo Maja said: “We are aware of the study by Prof Dheda which was demonstrating a method for the evaluation of KN95 masks. As such he sampled masks mainly from facilities in the public and private sectors in the Western Cape. That is our understanding. The researchers have now extended the opportunity to test masks in other areas which we are working with them on.

“At this stage we are not aware of unsafe masks in other provinces. The National Department does not purchase KN95 masks. These masks are purchased by provincial health departments and in some cases directly by the health facility. The quantity of masks purchased will have to be obtained from each provincial department,” Maja said.

Provincial health department spokesperson Mark van der Heever: “We have engaged with a range of stakeholders and will be addressing the matter moving forward.”

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Cape Times

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