Allegation of danger to healthcare workers triggers an expeditious response
The COVID-19 pandemic created an inherent danger to the health and safety of the public, and even more acutely to healthcare workers who have been selfless and steadfast in caring for those most seriously affected by the pandemic. When an employee came to the Commissioner’s office with concerns about a potential risk to the health and safety of healthcare workers, the Commissioner ordered an urgent investigation.
The pandemic triggered an unprecedented global demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). PPE is a critical line of defence for front-line healthcare workers against COVID-19 and was particularly crucial during the height of the pandemic. An employee recognized suspicious labelling on shipments of N95 respirators destined for healthcare workers and brought forward concerns regarding the integrity of the product. These concerns were exacerbated when we learned the manufacturer’s approval had been revoked by Health Canada, making importation and sale of the product unlawful.
The Commissioner’s concern and sense of urgency was matched by the affected organization and the designated officer who immediately responded and worked with the Commissioner’s office to expeditiously investigate the allegations.
Ultimately, we determined the concern regarding labelling of the product was the result of classification terminology used by Health Canada which deviates from terminology used in other jurisdictions. Although the classification terminology differed, it did not affect the product itself. We also determined that the product had been procured prior to Health Canada revoking approval, the product had been tested to meet regulated standards, and the affected entity’s procurement group had already confirmed continued use of the product with Health Canada. Further, it was also already in the process of procuring and fit-testing staff with product from a new manufacturer. In this regard, the affected entity had exercised diligence and took steps to ensure the integrity of the product.
With the support of the designated officer, the investigation was concluded quickly, preventing a disruption in the delivery of the PPE to healthcare workers. Moreover, it gave a sense of relief to the whistleblower and other employees who may have had similar concerns.
The action taken by the whistleblower is precisely what the legislation intended. An employee believed something may be seriously wrong and recognized the Commissioner’s office as the safe avenue to report it. The employee who came forward is commended and their identity will remain confidential.