Coronavirus fears lead to dust mask shortage
As concern mounts around the world over the spread of the coronavirus, Australia’s supplies of P2 disposable dust masks have now run out.
Master Electricians and suppliers across Australia are reporting P2 disposable dust masks are no longer available, stating that new stock is currently unavailable and may remain so for some time yet.
Public health officials do not recommend face masks as a precaution for the general public, but it appears this advice may have been ignored.
P2 dust masks are the minimum acceptable grade for managing silica dust (respirable crystalline silica). Silica dust causes silicosis, which is an incurable condition that has caused deaths in Australia. Anyone involved in cutting, drilling, hammering or other abrasive processes of stone, tile, concrete and similar materials must wear minimum P2 respirators to help manage the health risks posed by silica dust. Each state and territory has an obligation for employers and persons in control of the workplace (PCBUs) to ensure all hazards are appropriately managed. Failure to do so places the PCBU at risk of prosecution. Regulators will not accept lack of availability of dust masks as a reason for workers to be exposed to silica dust.
Businesses that rely on P2 disposable masks as part of their control strategy for silica dust (or any other hazards) should contact their PPE supplier as soon as possible to ask about availability and other respirator options.
Re-usable respirators may be a suitable replacement; however, they will need to be ‘fit-tested’ on the wearer to ensure they are appropriate for their face shape and the job requirements. Fit testing can be expensive, so ask about this at the same time as discussing respirator purchase. Also consider, workers will need training on how to use and care for them, and respirators will need to be periodically inspected to ensure they are being maintained correctly and have the correct filter cartridges.
Aside from masks/respirators, businesses should also investigate dust suppression/prevention strategies to prevent hazardous levels of dust being created.
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