Respiratory Protection Shortages in South Africa

men wearing respiratory protection at work

As PPE specialists, we feel that it is important to be transparent and to describe the current situation with regards to respiratory protection for industrial use.

As many of you are well aware, there is a massive shortage of N95 and FFP2 masks. During the beginning stages of Covid 19, most businesses were locked down, and the bulk of respiratory protection was either sent out of South Africa to China or focused towards our local medical industry and the few businesses that were deemed essential. Respiratory protection reserves were decimated and even future orders were re-directed elsewhere. In addition, some of the export countries closed their borders for exports of PPE.

As a result of the pandemic, the demand for N95 and FFP2 masks has skyrocketed and stock availability has become extremely limited. Manufacturers in South Africa are not equipped to manufacture on this scale. These manufacturers are dependent on imported raw materials which have become extremely scarce as they are being used in abundance in countries like China and the USA.

These raw materials are having to be pushed towards producing N95 masks for front-line workers. For this reason, very few manufacturers are producing FFP2 masks for the industrial space. In Europe, industrial users are paying over R80 per mask (4.4 Euro) for FFP2 masks.  

The bad news is that there is no end in sight, and it could take months before sufficient supply is restored. This in effect means that pricing of FFP2 masks will not go back to what is was before the pandemic for the foreseeable future and prices are most likely going to rise. It would be wishful thinking to expect to buy FFP2 masks at the old price. There may be a trickle of masks at local production rates however, these will be few and far between.

Price gauging has become a big problem in the PPE sector and manufacturers are not able to mark up their prices because there is currently so much competition. Price gauging regulations have created confusion in the market on what pricing should be and what is expected.

The good news is that we are working hard to source high quality respiratory protection that meets the necessary standards and requirements. We have been able to source some products, but they are at a higher price because they are imported.

We have sourced N95/FFP2 masks from New Zealand which provide excellent protection. The mask provides single-use, disposable respiratory protection to protect both the wearer and non-wearer from the transfer of micro-organisms, body fluids, and particulate material. The masks are SANAS and NRCS certified, surpass American N95 standards and are AS/NZS 1716:2012 and EN149:2001 compliant.