The Province and Shared Health are recalling expired face masks they sent to frontline workers and are replacing them with newer masks after employees and the MGEU raised concerns.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that some masks sent by the Province and Shared Health to workers were more than 10 years old and well beyond their expiry date. In some cases, there have been reports from workers of headaches caused by an odour and skin irritation while wearing the masks.

When this issue was raised by members working in correctional facilities, MGEU notified senior management at Manitoba Justice immediately about the situation, and the department agreed to deliver unexpired masks to correctional facilities that day.

Shared Health says that the masks it distributed were approved for use by the Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety (OESH) and had been kept in temperature-controlled storage. They say alternative supplies are available for people who experience skin irritations.

The province has taken the position that the masks are adequate to be used as PPE while alternate supplies are located and distributed. 

However, the manufacturer of the masks says the masks are too far past their expiry date and they do not recommend using them.

“It’s ridiculous to say this is adequate PPE,” says MGEU President, Michelle Gawronsky. “Employers need to do better for our frontline workers and help stop the spread of COVID-19 in jails, care homes, schools, daycares, group homes, and hospitals. Workers need the right equipment to protect themselves and, in our view, the right equipment isn't long-expired PPE.”

Given the high rates of community transmission in the province, the MGEU also says many workplaces, such as provincial jails, need more medical-grade PPE, including gowns and gloves, to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The union has filed grievances on behalf of members on the issue of adequate PPE and continues to press employers for critical protective gear. Gawronsky says the union is checking in with employers where the expired masks were discovered to ensure new replacements are delivered soon.

If any MGEU members suspect the PPE provided in their workplace has expired or does not meet proper standards, they are encouraged to reach out to their employer or health and safety representatives. If the employer refuses to act, they should contact the MGEU Resource Centre.