KITCHENER -- A group of Canadian PPE companies is pushing for change in the industry.

The Canadian Shield has formed an association with manufacturers to speed up the certification process for N95 respirators and to advocate for higher standards in the industry.

“We want to make sure that Canadian companies can sell into hospitals and healthcare while having unrestricted access to compete in a free and open market,” said Jeremy Hedges, CEO of The Canadian Shield.

Hedges co-founded the Canadian Association of Medical Mask Manufacturers with Robert Balazs, the CEO of Breathe Medical Manufacturing, a PPE company based in British Columbia.

The two are lobbying the government for access to long-term contracts and pushing for certification changes.

“We needed to ensure that the quality of products manufactured are consistent and readily available,” said Robert Balazs.

The association also wants to create standards for PPE imported into Canada.

“We are hoping to have a level playing field for Canadian companies so as other organizations look to import from other countries, they are held to the same standards in terms of labour laws,” said Hedges.

The group is also advocating for long-term Canadian certification for N95 respirators.

Companies are currently relying on a USA regulatory body, the National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH), with extensive wait times.

“We paid a massive premium to import those products and ultimately we had our healthcare workers exposed because they didn’t have the PPE they needed,” said Hedges.

A former senior advisor on the SARS commission says a Canadian equivalent to U.S.-based NIOSH was recommended to the Ontario government in 2006.

“We should’ve been ready from day one to be able to protect our health care workers and our vulnerable frontline workers at an airborne level,” said Mario Possamai, former senior advisor on the SARS Commission. “It is tragic."

Hedges says they are working with Health Canada and the Canadian Standards Association.

A CSA spokesperson says a 60-day public review period is underway with the standard expected to be finalized by the fall.

Hedges is hopeful this will create opportunity for PPE companies stepping up to help as the pandemic drags on.