Health workers across Canada are warning that wearing face coverings can pose a health risk to workers in the field, and could be unsafe.
The practice is being urged by the Canadian Medical Association to consider wearing face masks during shifts.
Health Canada has issued a draft guideline for the profession, saying workers should wear protective gear to protect themselves from potential occupational hazards such as sunburn, and exposure to bacteria and fungi.
Dr. Michael Gagnon, director of the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, said the guidelines are the result of consultations with health workers across the country, and have been in the works for more than a year.
Gagnon said that while face covering can be effective in some cases, there are many more ways to protect oneself, and that the practice needs to be discussed and addressed at a community level.
“What’s happening in Canada today is we’re seeing a huge increase in the number of people who have respiratory problems,” he said.
If you have a respiratory problem, there’s a reason why you might want to cover your face, he said, adding that the health ministry has also recommended that the wearing of face cover-up should be discouraged.
A spokesperson for Health Canada said that a draft of the guidelines will be released soon.
In the meantime, the organization is asking health professionals to wear face masks while working.
This is not the first time the organization has pushed for more safety measures in the workplace.
Last fall, Health Canada issued guidelines that required workers to wear masks at work for the first three days of the year, and for at least two consecutive months.
It also recommended employees use protective clothing for at most 10 hours of work a week, and to wash their hands after handling contaminated surfaces.
Earlier this year, the union representing Health Canada’s head of safety and occupational health issued a report that warned of a spike in worker infections in the province.
According to the report, the number and types of workers who are at risk of contracting E.coli have increased by nearly 50 per cent in the last four years, and many of them are new to the province and working in remote areas.
Among the findings: Health Canada has found that of the 1,824 confirmed infections of the respiratory tract during the first five months of the current fiscal year, 569 were among workers who had not previously worked in a lab.
The average duration of infection was just under three months, with the most common strains being MRSA, Campylobacter, Salmonella and Escherichia coli.
Some health experts have called for an increase in measures that can be taken to protect the health of workers, including using gloves and masks, disinfecting surfaces, and not using equipment that can become contaminated.