The Ontario government will purchase 55 million N95 respirators and has mandated the use of safety engineered needles or needle-less systems in the province's hospitals, according to Ontario's Health Minister George Smitherman.

“By investing in better equipment, we are putting the lessons we learned from SARS into action,” Smitherman said. “These new respirators will help provide the protection that nurses and other front line health care providers deserve because their health and safety must be paramount when dealing with infectious diseases.”

In his final report on SARS, Justice Archie Campbell of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice chastised the Canadian government for being completely unprepared to respond to the outbreak of SARS, which killed 44 people in the Toronto area. He pointed out there was a failure to protect the health care workers who were on the front lines when the SARS outbreak occurred. For more on the Canadian SARS report, read "Canada Health Care Workers Were Neglected.".

As a result, the Ontario government has reportedly adopted the "precautionary principle" in providing personal protective equipment when faced with infectious disease outbreaks. The province has appointed a new, permanent health and safety advisory committee under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to provide practical advice and recommendations to ensure health care workers are protected.

Safety Needles Intended to Minimize Injuries

A new regulation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act will make safety engineered needles or needle-less systems mandatory in all hospitals as of Sept. 1, 2008. The government intends to mandate the use of safety engineered needles or needle-less systems in long-term care homes, psychiatric facilities, laboratories and specimen collection centers in 2009 and in other health care workplaces (home care, doctor's offices, ambulances, etc.) in 2010.

"Safe workplaces are a priority for this government," said Minister of Labor Steve Peters. "Making safety engineered needles or needle-less systems mandatory will help us reach our goal by creating safer work environments that prevent health related injuries."

Joseline Sikorski, president and chief executive officer for the Ontario Safety Association for Community and Healthcare said the move the government has made is a positive one.

“Providing our caregivers with safe equipment and work environments are essential priorities in linking a culture of safety with quality care,” Sikorski said.

Government Adopts Other Initiatives

The Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) and its 53,000 members were also pleased to hear about the new regulation.

"ONA has been pushing for the government to provide N-95 respirators, at a minimum, to protect members from contracting SARS, or influenza, or other infectious disease," says ONA President Linda Haslam-Stroud, R.N. "The government's announcement this morning that it will stockpile N-95s is a positive thing for protecting the health and lives of our members and their families."

The Ontario government has adopted additional measures to make hospitals in the province a safety-friendly environment. It has purchased more than 19,000 bed lifts to literally save nurses' backs and has launched the Pains and Strains Campaign to help reduce ergonomic- related injuries, which account for 42 percent of all lost-time injuries in Ontario.

The government also has hired 200 new health and safety inspectors to help achieve its goal of preventing 20,000 workplace injuries by 2008.