Occupational hygienist Jane Whitelaw already knew not enough is being done to protect Australian healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That's before she read that a young Melbourne nurse contracted COVID-19 recently after management failed to provide her with the better personal protective equipment she requested.
Ms Whitelaw, from the School of Health and Society at the University of Wollongong, said the issue of healthcare workers being infected is a serious problem.
She points to the 1242 Victorian healthcare workers who have coronavirus to highlight her point.
"Some 11 per cent of active cases are healthcare workers. That is quite a lot," she said.
"While we don't know what proportion of the Victorian healthcare workers currently infected with COVID-19 acquired it at work rather than in the community, it's almost certain a portion of these infections were contracted in the workplace."
The expert in respiratory protection said healthcare workers in Australia were inadequately protected..
In a co-authored article in The Conversation, Ms Whitelaw says inadequate national guidance has led to an inconsistent and non-standardised approach to airborne precaution PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) across all healthcare settings.
"Early experience in China found up to 29 per cent of healthcare workers were infected where PPE was inadequate...they managed this down to zero with the right PPE," she said.
"We need a National Register of health-care worker infections, with the category of health-care worker, where the infection was acquired, severity of the disease, and outcome. This will inform policy and prevention strategies."
She said surgical masks are primarily designed to protect the environment from the wearer. They're not designed to protect the wearer from respiratory pathogens.
"Coronavirus is a highly contagious virus with the potential to cause significant ill health and death. In healthcare settings, it should be classified as a lethal biohazard and managed accordingly.
"The safest approach is to consider all people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 in hospital, being transported to hospital or being tested for COVID-19 as being able to spread the virus via the airborne route.
"As such, the use of airborne precaution PPE with a correctly fitted N95/P2 respirator is essential.
"An adequate supply of approved N95/P2 respirators must be made available to protect health-care workers from COVID-19, and they must be correctly fitted and trained in their use."
We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.