Many governments and employers have instituted “inadequate” measures to protect workers from Covid-19, heard the annual meeting of the Irish Society of Occupational Medicine in Dublin last month.
Prof Raymond Agius, Professor Emeritus of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Manchester, presented on the topic of ‘The Covid pandemic, worker protection, the lessons learned’.
Firstly, he said, lessons learned from previous outbreaks/epidemics were not applied in many countries following the onset of Covid-19.
Prof Agius said the infection risk associated with aerosol exposure was underestimated and that research prior to the pandemic described the superiority of filtering facepiece respirators over surgical face masks against influenza bio-aerosols.
According to Prof Agius, a disciplined strategy of source control, pathway control (eg, ventilation) and receptor control (eg, respiratory protective equipment [RPE]), and worldwide vaccination, are required to contend with the pandemic.
Speaking to the Medical Independent Prof Agius said a healthcare worker, for example, caring for a patient with respiratory symptoms should wear RPE. He was critical of guidance in health systems limiting a requirement for RPE to a defined set of aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs).
More broadly, he said it was imperative that the principles and practice of occupational hygiene were applied across society to mitigate infections, morbidity and mortality, and the emergence of variants of concern.
“That means we still need to take some degree of precautions in society and there has to be an investment in cleaner air, ventilation and filtration and so on, to try and reduce the risk.”
Prof Agius underlined the importance of establishing robust mechanisms to prepare for pandemics and engagement of wider society.
HSE guidance (July 2023) for acute hospitals outlines that healthcare workers should wear eye protection and “surgical mask or respirator mask” (FFP2) when directly caring for patients with possible/confirmed Covid-19. Airborne precautions are required when a patient with possible/confirmed Covid-19 needs an AGP.
The HSE noted that its updated guidance for healthcare buildings had placed more emphasis on ventilation.