WINNIPEG, MB. - An arbitration process has confirmed the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) is providing its members insufficient respiratory protection from exposure to synthetic opiates such as fentanyl and carfentanil. In late 2016 and through 2017, as the fentanyl crisis exploded in Winnipeg, the WPS issued members with N95-type face masks for use in incidents where they might be exposed to airborne or powdered forms of these dangerous synthetic opiates. The Winnipeg Police Association (WPA) raised concerns the N95 masks were not sufficient for the realities members face in performing their duty on the streets of Winnipeg. An arbitrator has agreed with these concerns and ordered the WPS address these concerns properly.
“Synthetic opiates like fentanyl and carfentanil are a serious risk to the health and safety of our members,” said WPA President Maurice (Moe) Sabourin. “We have already seen several serious situations where members required emergency medical treatment for exposure to substances. Our members encounter all sorts of different powders and substances during their duties, and given that very tiny amounts of these opiate substances – even two milligrams (an amount smaller than a grain of salt) – could be lethal, proper safety equipment is essential to protect Winnipeg police officers. Hopefully now we can get that equipment.”
The WPA has been raising concerns the N95 masks could not offer a sufficient seal in the context of the different situations members might face while on duty. While the N95 mask met technical standards, proper use depends on a controlled environment and situations where people are calm and moving slowly. In the real world of front-line policing, these conditions seldom, if ever, apply. WPA members were not confident the N95 could be properly placed amid a real-life, real-time situation they might actually encounter on the streets of Winnipeg. Other police forces facing serious opiate situations, such as Vancouver and Ottawa, issue their members full face masks to provide more complete protection under policing conditions.
“While we are pleased the arbitration process has ultimately supported our position, we are disappointed it has taken a year to get to this point. From exposure to opiates to safe parking, the service has been very slow to respond to concerns about the safety of our members,” added Sabourin. “I know the budget priorities of Mayor Brian Bowman and his allies on City Council have put the Chief in a difficult position, but this is about the health and safety of our members who work on the front lines of public safety. I hope now the Chief and his team will work with us to provide the mask protection our members need so they can continue to keep Winnipeg families safe.”
Winnipeg Police Association