The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has today (Tuesday 6th October) published advice for Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) working in schools on how to protect against Covid-19 transmission.
The HPSC is part of the HSE and monitors infectious diseases in Ireland. The new guidance is to be circulated by the Department of Education and Skills (DES) to school principals.
The advice had previously been requested by Fórsa ahead of the 2020/21 school term. The union said the new advice confirms the accuracy of Fórsa’s guidance on the use of face masks, and other measures, issued to members in advance of schools opening in August.
The HPSC advice states that, where a two-metre social distance cannot be maintained, the correct PPE for SNAs is a surgical face mask (EN14683 standard). The advice also contains links to the HSE guidance on how to use a facemask correctly and when to change the mask.
It’s a cause of some concern that it has taken this long to issue the basic advice but it does confirm our advice to members in August was correct.
The new advice cautions that SNAs should use a face mask rather than a face visor, unless wearing a surgical mask is impractical. Fórsa also noted the HPSC advice that using a face visor is advisable when washing a student to protect the eyes, but a face mask used on a routine basis provides protection against Covid-19 transmission.
Fórsa’s head of education Andy Pike said: “It’s a cause of some concern that it has taken this long to issue the basic advice but it does confirm our advice to members in August was correct.
“Based on our own survey findings, there are still hundreds of schools refusing to provide the basic surgical face mask. We’re advising SNA members working in schools that are failing to provide surgical masks to speak to their Lead Worker Representative and request that suitable face masks are now provided in sufficient numbers,” he said.
Andy said schools have been funded to provide adequate PPE: “The surgical face mask is the minimum standard for use in health and social care settings as advised by the HSE. The masks are inexpensive and are the most important safety measure for SNAs who cannot maintain two metres social distancing.
“This is the minimum standard of protection the employer should provide. No school can now claim that they have not been advised to provide surgical grade masks for SNAs,” he said.
The union is advising members that if their school continues to refuse to provide the basic PPE to contact Fórsa as a matter of urgency.
You can view the new guidance here – HPSC Guidance for SNAs.