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As Canada reopens, the search for PPE consumes company resources

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian companies are scouring the globe, often at great expense, to secure personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and customers as businesses reopen and coronavirus restrictions are eased.

FILE PHOTO: A woman wears a face mask while walking in the financial district as the number of novel coronavirus cases continues to grow in Toronto, Ontario, Canada March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

While larger companies, such as Canadian National Railway Co, are tapping their own global networks to located PPE, smaller companies are battling higher costs to stock up.

“We’re worried ... every week or two there’s a new need,” Greg Moreau, chief executive of Chatters Ltd, an Alberta-based hair salon and hair product distributer.

Moreau, whose company has 115 salons across Canada and employs roughly 1,700 people, estimates the additional gear, some of which has been sourced using the supply chain of companies like L’Oreal, is currently costing Chatters about C$4-C$4.50 per individual appointment.

“The cost is probably 10 times what we were paying for any of this,” he said.

The Canadian government announced last week it was launching an online supply hub to help connect businesses looking for masks, shields and gloves with suppliers.

United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), an agricultural cooperative that runs farm and ranch stores, has failed to secure a supply of N95 masks from 3M for months, Scott Bolton, the president and CEO, said.

Farmers “need masks in particular when they’re working with livestock and or in dusty areas, say grain handling,” he said, adding the cooperative has turned to Asian suppliers for Chinese-made KN95 masks.

“Frankly, it was scouring the globe, really, trying to find the technical requirements and the quality requirements,” Bolton said.

UFA has secured roughly 20,000 KN95 masks and will source more as required. “I think we’re exiting the crisis at the moment,” he added.

CN Railway, Canada’s largest railway, has relied on its staff in China and Singapore to manage PPE supplies since making it mandatory for its 25,000 staff to wear a mask while on company premises last month.

“They’ve been very helpful to us to secure these masks,” Sean Finn, a CN executive vice president, told Reuters last month.

CN had initially sourced enough disposable masks to last until August, but has now transitioned to using reusable masks.

Chatters is also working on a three-month cycle and has four staff working full-time to procure hairdressing capes, plastic shields and masks.

“We thought masks were going to be the issue, then it was gloves, right now it’s barbicide (a cleaning solution),” Moreau said. “It’s sort of a moving target and we’re just trying to stay ahead of it.”

Reporting by Kelsey Johnson; Additional reporting by Rod Nickel; Editing by Leslie Adler; Editing by Denny Thomas and

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