The flow-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic means there is a global shortage of:

  • disposable respirators
  • surgical and procedural masks
  • respirator filters
  • disposable coveralls
  • disposable gloves
  • goggles and safety glasses
  • face shields.

Supply issues are predicted to continue for the foreseeable future. To manage the demand, suppliers may be prioritising supply of specific types of PPE to emergency services and healthcare providers.  PCBUs may find that their usual PPE is no longer available from their supplier.

Some work activities require use of PPE in addition to other controls. PCBUs in this situation should have a plan to manage the PPE shortage.

We expect all PCBUs to continue protecting workers and others from harm to their health, safety, and welfare by eliminating or minimising risks arising from work.  When PPE is not available a PCBU should reassess their controls in place and look at whether there are other reasonably practicable controls available.  If PCBUs run out of essential PPE they may need to stop specific work activities until supplies become available.

Managing the PPE shortage

The PPE shortage created by flow-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. PPE is an essential part of work health and safety risk management for some types of work, such as healthcare. PCBUs should have a plan to manage the PPE shortage.

For disposable PPE this may include:

  • seeking advice from an occupational hygienist or other expert about alternatives to the PPE that’s usually used
  • taking the opportunity to reassess controls and look at whether there are other reasonably practicable controls that don’t rely on PPE
  • considering whether reusable respirators with replaceable filters or powered air-purifying respirators should be used
  • using coveralls that can be laundered or decontaminated rather than disposable coveralls, if appropriate.

If workers have to use new types of PPE or different brands PCBUs must make sure it is:

  • suitable for the nature of the work and any risks associated with the work
  • a suitable size and fit and reasonably comfortable (eg does the worker wear prescription glasses, have facial hair or other features that could affect how well PPE fits? Has the new PPE been fit tested?)
  • compatible with any other PPE the worker is required to wear or use
  • compliant with any industry-specific requirements or standards.

If PCBUs can’t find appropriate alternatives to their current PPE for a work activity they may need to stop the activity until the PPE is available again.

Remember, PPE should always be the last resort when providing protection from harm for workers. More effective controls should be used first, in this order:

  1. elimination,
  2. minimisation – substitution, isolation and engineering controls,
  3. if a risk remains – administrative controls,
  4. if a risk still remains – PPE.

Further information

You can find more information about where to source PPE on the Manufacturing New Zealand Website(external link)

See our safety alert on non-compliant respiratory protective equipment on the market