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BCNU Calls for Enhanced Measures to Reduce Spread of Omicron

  • Bulletin; Health & Safety; COVID-19
​Union raising concerns over plans to staff system with COVID-positive health care workers

The Omicron variant of SARS CoV-2 is rapidly spreading throughout British Columbia, with record levels of daily case counts threatening to overwhelm the health care system. Earlier this week, it was announced that officials are considering the possibility of allowing some health-care workers with mild symptoms to return to the job, if necessary.

While details have not been finalized, BCNU has significant concerns in regards to health care workers being expected to work with a positive COVID diagnosis, based on the health and safety risks this poses to members, colleagues and patients. Our members are exhausted. Thousands of nurses are working long hours often without a break, caring for far more patients and clients than they should. Units are short staffed more often than not, leaving nurses physically and mentally worn out. 

Not only do members need time to properly recuperate, but there is also an increased risk of transmission of the virus to vulnerable patients and other colleagues.

Nurse Safety

BCNU leadership continues to advocate for unfettered access to N95 respirators for its members, a call first issued at the start of the pandemic. This past week, letters were sent to Health Minister Adrian Dix, as well as to the vice presidents of pandemic planning in all health authorities, demanding appropriate protections for all health care workers especially now, given how contagious the Omicron variant is.

Despite acknowledgement by the provincial government that the Omicron variant is more easily aerosolized and federal recommendations to use N95 respirators whenever possible, officials are yet to update PPE guidelines to mandate the use of N95 respirators (or equivalent) for health care workers when providing care to suspected COVID positive patients or those with confirmed cases.

While vaccination offers the highest level of protection against severe illness with Omicron, members are strongly encouraged to continue to utilize the highest level of personal protective equipment (PPE) to further reduce the risk of transmission.

BCNU's PPE position statement clearly states that the clinical judgement of nurses should be respected and the precautionary principle must be applied when determining the most appropriate type of PPE. The precautionary principle states that the highest level of PPE should be used until such time as there is definitive proof that it is not required.

PCRAs and the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

Members are reminded to regularly conduct a point-of-care risk assessment (PCRA). If, following the PCRA, you determine that an N95 respirator is required to adequately protect you, it should be immediately provided to you. N95 respirators (properly fit tested) provide a higher level of protection against aerosols than surgical masks. Members are encouraged to use their clinical judgement to determine if there is a risk and to utilize the proper PPE necessary to reduce that risk. If you are denied access to any PPE, please report this to your local steward immediately.

In the event there is an undue level of hazard present and you are unable to reach your manager or supervisor, BCNU representatives including worksite stewards, joint occupational health and safety (JOHS) committee representatives, regional OHS representatives and regional council members are available to support those who may wish to refuse unsafe work. If necessary, WorkSafeBC can be reached at 1-888-621-7233. This procedure allows for an investigation and remedy that will reduce risks to an acceptable level, either through the provision of enhanced PPE or other means.

If you require additional information on the refusal of unsafe work process, please reach out directly to the health and safety team at healthandsafety@bcnu.org.


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