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CEO's desk - June 2021

08 June 2021

Alan Murray provides an insight into the UK Product Safety Review 2021 and the view of the BSIF from a PPE perspective

IN MARCH this year the Office for Product Safety & Standards (OPSS) launched a “call for evidence” to inform their review of the UK’s current product safety regulatory framework, for a wide range of goods put on the market in the UK. 

The existing framework is based largely on EU Regulation, shifted into UK law and having left the European Union it was seen as an opportunity to ensure that our approach is fit for the future and meets UK needs.

The review set out to look at whether the framework ensures consumer protection from unsafe goods, whether it is easy to follow, flexible enough to support business growth and innovation and can respond quickly and effectively to any threats contained in new methods of supply such as digital and on-line trading.

The methodology in collecting of information by OPSS in their call for evidence included business reference panels and stakeholder events, direct comment and an on-line survey of some 26 questions. The evidence was sought across areas including, product design, placing on the market, new models of supply, new products and innovation and it also included consideration on enforcement methodology. 

The call for evidence closed on the 17th of June and I hope that you took the opportunity to give your views.

The BSIF view, expressed from a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) perspective, is that by and large the framework and the PPE Regulation is fit for purpose. However, and it is a big however, the lack of enforcement threatens to entirely undermine the regulation, the safety of users and contributes to a distortion of the market. We have known this for some time and we have continually made representation calling for the market surveillance authorities to be more active in discharging their responsibilities. 

The enforcement of PPE Regulations in the UK is, as you are probably aware, split between HSE (for product used at work) and Trading Standards (for product offered to private individuals). This model is not necessarily an effective structural approach for a number of reasons. Supply channels are rarely separate, trading standards officers work for local authorities and are not a joined up entity and HSE will only hear about PPE issues following reports or during infrequent health and safety inspections.

We know these problems of course, but there is also a deeper problem that is rooted in the definition of “unsafe” products.

Within the product safety framework a product is unsafe if it, or using it has the potential to cause harm. That is why the examples of unsafe products that we see are those that could present risk to users, such as those that contain toxic materials or compounds, products that could cause electrocution and fires and products that present a risk of choking or strangulation. That does not work for PPE.

PPE items of course, cannot in themselves be allowed to cause harm and that is dealt with in “Essential Health and Safety Requirements”. However, the product safety framework does not adequately appreciate its vital role and the reason that PPE is deployed. Our view is crystal clear, and that is that product safety must be recognised as going beyond the absence of potential hazards inherent in a product. PPE is of course designed to be worn to protect users from a previously identified hazard in an environment or as part of a task. The utilisation of PPE as a control measure comes only after other control measures have failed to adequately remove or reduce or mitigate the risk of harm to a wearer. PPE which does not perform in a hazardous environment, to its stated claims, presents a clear and obvious danger for the user. 

Consider a chemical suit, a flame retardant garment or a respirator which fails work as they are supposed to! The circumstances of use, make PPE which does not perform unsafe and this status must be recognised.

Product performance standards require that PPE is conformity assessed to ensure that it performs and it is subsequently certified as doing so. The assessment and ongoing quality assurance is evidenced by prescribed documents and these are made available to users.

It is our contention that any PPE items which are placed on the market without the required documentation should be deemed as unsafe and enforcement action taken without the need for further time, consuming and expensive investigation by authorities who are resource poor to begin with.

The default position must be that any piece of PPE which has not been proven, in line with Regulation 2016/425, to perform to claims be classified as unsafe and should be removed from sale.

This is the angle that we are pursuing with the Office for Product Safety and Standards.

Alan Murray is chief executive of BSIF. For more information, visit www.bsif.co.uk