Column: How Have We Protected Our Workers?

April 15, 2020 | 0 Comments

[Written by Shadow National Security Minister Ben Smith]

As a citizen of Bermuda, I have been totally focused on these anxious times – from the personal impact as well as the impact on my family and friends.

My 82-year-old mother is always in my mind as a person who is vulnerable to COVID-19, but I also look at myself as an asthmatic and at family members who are diabetics, who have a history of illness or who are smokers. These are my daily thoughts and fears.

With my Shadow Minister of National Security hat on, there is another area that is making me anxious: how are we protecting the people that we rely on to protect us and the loved ones that they go home to?

The Police and Regiment have continued to serve the community and for that I join Bermuda in giving my full gratitude. However, the shield between them and COVID-19 seems thin.

They have been given gloves and masks – although there have been shortages of masks which means some have not had proper protection which is of very grave concern. It is quite incredulous that we have put these men and women on the frontline apparently without adequate protection.

Even with masks, what level of protection does a regular mask have? I hear of simple cloth masks being used. Do we need to step up the personal protective equipment [PPE] that we supply them?

We have now heard from the Commissioner that a person, who said he had COVID-19, deliberately coughed at four officers. This is disgraceful behaviour that should be condemned but it again raises the issue of PPE for frontline people.

Our Prison Officers have their temperature tested before they start their shift and are also given the same protection as the other services, but they are operating in a confined space where social distancing may be more difficult to implement.

Are the inmates’ temperatures being monitored? If the Prison Officer starts a shift with no temperature and completes the shift with a temperature what is the plan for that officer and those he has come into contact with? If testing the temperatures of our Prison officers is part of the new protection, are we testing the temperature of our other frontline workers both at the beginning and end of their shift?

Our Customs Officers walked out due to a lack of PPE. We were told that something was being fabricated for them but heard nothing more. Has the work to protect our Customs Officers been completed? What PPE do they have? Have our fire officers got the equipment they need?

Our fireman/EMT’s respond to calls that may be from an accident or some illness that is not connected to COVID-19. The person they are attending to may not know they have COVID-19. What equipment are they using to attend these scenes?

Now we learn that hospital staff have not been subjected to wide-scale screening apparently due to a lack of tests.

I understand that there are shortages, but I am concerned about the people in the Police, the Regiment, Fire Department, Prisons and the hospital. What is the status of the supplies available for these frontline workers? Has PPE arrived from China as promised? Is the Chinese PPE up to recognized standards?

The same way I think of my family and how I want them to be protected, we need to remember that all these workers are also our family and friends and need protecting.

I say ‘Thank You’ to all these workers for their selfless decision to put themselves in the position to protect us. Let’s make sure that we are protecting them.

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