UGDSB approves the use of N95 masks for staff

Employees have to purchase masks themselves and complete an application process

GUELPH – The Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) has approved the use of N95 masks for staff, provided they fulfill several requirements.

In a Nov. 23 board meeting, director of education Peter Sovran presented the board with a finalized report on a previously-passed motion recommending the allowance of N95 masks.

Trustees approved a motion directing the board to establish a comprehensive application process through the health and safety department for staff requesting the use of self-funded, fitted and acquired N95 masks or “respirators” for COVID-19 purposes.

In October, trustee Mike Foley raised concerns about masking and asked staff to investigate the use of N95 masks and review motions approved by other boards in the province.

Following input from the joint health and safety committee, guidance from the Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Education and public health agencies, the board’s health and safety department developed a series of guidelines for staff about which PPE should be worn in different circumstances and conditions.

“What we propose is the following, that a process be developed for staff initiated and funded N95 mask or respirator use,” Sovran explained to the board.

The report to trustees noted the board continues to align with the Ministry of Education and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health direction that an N95 mask would not be considered enhanced PPE at this time.

“However, we do believe that’ it’s reasonable and compassionate for the board to provide a process to allow staff seeking to substitute the employer mask PPE with an N95 to further address potential concerns related to personal perceived risks associated with COVID-19 exposure,” Sovran explained.

This contradicts recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which note “in general, while non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, medical masks and respirators provide better protection.”

Guidance from the agency also recommends people who are “at higher risk of more severe disease or outcomes if they get COVID-19” wear a medical mask or respirator. 

Respirators, which were previously only recommended for health-care workers coming in direct contact with the virus, are considered the highest level of mask protection according to the PHAC, which also notes a “fit test” is only required in those high-risk areas. 

For more general use, a “respirator worn in the community doesn’t need to have been formally fit tested as is required in some occupational settings,” the agency notes.

Regardless, as the approved UGDSB motion notes, the board’s health and safety department will develop an application process for staff members wanting to wear N95 masks, which will include the following requirements:

  • an attestation of the purchase of an N95 mask “respirator” that is certified by the National Institute of Safety and Health or approved by Health Canada as “PPE respirator” by the staff member (at their own cost);
  • a report of the make, model and size of the selected N95 respirator;
  • an attestation that the staff member has undergone fit testing to use the selected make, model and sized N95 respirator in accordance with Canadian Standards Association regarding the use and care of respirators;
  • a certificate of training completion that includes the use and limitations of the selected N95 respirator as well as the name of the organization/individual performing the fit-testing and training; and
  • if a different N95 respirator is purchased, the staff member would be required to complete a new process.

The report notes staff will not be permitted to wear an N95 mask until all required documentation is submitted, reviewed and approved by the health and safety department.

“I just want to say thank you so much for responding to the board’s motion last month so quickly, doing such a thorough job and responding to the needs of all staff,” Foley said in response to the presentation.

To view the full report, click here.