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(Toronto, August 23/07) The advocacy work of CUPE Ontario leadership and health and safety staff has paid off with today’s announcement of a new provincial regulation that will protect nurses from life-threatening diseases like SARS and Avian Flu.

The McGuinty government will purchase 55 million N95 respirators and mandate the use of safety engineered needles or needle-less systems in Ontario hospitals, according to an announcement by Health Minister George Smitherman and Labour Minister Steve Peters.

“Our group worked hand in hand with other unions including the ONA, OPSEU and SEIU to push for these important protections for workers,” said Michael Hurley, President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU). “Safety must be first and foremost for Ontario’s health care workers and that means that the province must follow the precautionary principle and provide personal protective equipment in the face of infectious disease outbreaks.”

The government’s purchase of up to 55 million N95 respirators is part of its 2007 Ontario Health Plan for an Influenza Pandemic. N95 respirators are designed to provide a higher level of respiratory protection for the wearer when compared to surgical masks.

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 September 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 centres in 2009 and in other health care workplaces (home care, doctor’s offices, ambulances, etc.) in 2010.