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BSIF Special Interest Groups

27 November 2023

The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) benefits from active participation in its Special Interest Groups (SIGs). Here's an overview of the activities and valuable guidance the groups offer.

Many representative trade organisations engage with their membership through a range of Technical Committees or Working Groups, BSIF has for our part, a very active structure of Special Interest Groups (SIGs) defined by the PPE and Safety Equipment product categories. Unique to BSIF is that membership of SIGs is open to all in the supply chain. This means that manufacturers, importers, distributors and associated specialist services providers can come together (respecting corporate governance sensitivities) staying across industry issues, sharing and cascading regulatory information and facilitating debate and developing authoritative positions on product concerns and standards. BSIF nominates representatives from the SIGs to participate in the British Standards Institute (BSI) national standards committees and from there individuals can move on to the international CEN and ISO standards making committees.
Within BSIF SIGs there is also representation from government departments and the market surveillance authorities. SIGs truly are an exceptional forum and with the groups also providing guidance for end users and duty holders, they are an important asset to the wider industry. 

On these pages I will provide an overview of the recent SIG activities but before getting further into those specifically I wanted to share that, in addition to the groups below, we are now moving forward at some pace to create a special interest group dealing with “Electrical and Arc flash hazards”. This group will be horizontal in nature, and will not be restricted to any product categories. The group will commence in 2024 and we would welcome expressions of interest and participation from the membership.

On the ever present subject of “Sustainability” BSIF had at one juncture intended to develop an SIG dedicated to the topic, however we moved away from that option choosing to create a specialist working group who have already produced a “Position Paper” a “Code of Conduct” on green claims and a substantial “Sustainability Reference Document” to assist members in discharging responsibilities with existing legislation. This collateral was published in early 2023. The working group are now publishing further guidance with the “Environment” document. This document takes a deeper look at the challenges around CO2 emissions and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol moving then into chemicals and environmental challenges around PPE. As ever the BSIF publications are produced to inform and share knowledge, supporting the membership and the industry. Please note that all of the BSIF SIG Guidance are now available through QR codes.
Please do join in the groups and the debates.

Special Interest Group updates

The SIGs that operate within BSIF are as I said defined by specific areas of interest be that driven by product type or by area of risk. The SIGs are 

  • The Test and Certification Association
  • The Height Safety Group
  • The Respiratory Protection Group
  • The Eye Face, Head and Hearing
  • The Measurement and Instrumentation Group
  • The Safety Footwear Group
  • The Spill Containment and Control Group
  • The Protective Glove and Clothing Group
  • The Test and Certification Association

The sharp eyed amongst you will note that the group are actually of themselves an “association” with specific rules applied. Membership of the test and Certification is restricted to Conformity Assessment Bodies (in PPE) who have been approved by the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) to provide regulatory approval decisions for PPE. In addition other BSIF member companies who have independent laboratories accredited under ISO 17025 are also accepted into membership. Further, to give a 360 degree view, the chairs of our product based SIGs also participate and indeed there is participation from DBT, HSE, UKAS and Trading Standards. In design, this facilitates a consistent approach to conformity assessment formalised through the production of agreed process documents for implementing decisions. As you will imagine, in recent times the group have been singularly focused on the establishment of the UKCA/UKNI regime. While all the attention has been on UKCA and the work involved, we have had the government pivots on acceptance of CE, culminating in an “indefinite extension” of the same. We have to recognise that the UK Approved Bodies are excluded (post Brexit) from giving CE approvals and that their viability and the future of conformity assessment in the UK is now under threat.

The Protective Glove and Clothing SIG:
It probably does not take too much imagination to appreciate that this group has a very wide range in its’ portfolio with protective gloves and clothing covering a vast area of risks and hazards in the workplace. The number of product standards that apply is vast, from chemical to heat and flame to high visibility and protective clothing especially is often subject to multiple standards on individual products. The group is very well represented on the BSI PH committees and it benefits from comprehensive feedback from the PH committee members. Like all the SIGs Protective Glove and Clothing has produced many valuable pieces of guidance for their sector and that work continued in 2023. In 2024 there is likely to be more focus on gender specific workwear and there is likely to be a collaboration with the Chartered Institute of Building who are currently championing the “ppethatfits” campaign on social media. 

The Eye, Face, Head and Hearing SIG:
As the name suggests this group covers several PPE category areas but meets as a unit as the products are often worn in combination and often as an ensemble (such as hearing protectors attached to hard hats). The group has, it is fair to say, historically had a focus bias on hearing protection, but that has been addressed over recent years with the introduction of a champion from each of the categories who are able to lead in their particular area of interest. The level of activity in each of the categories can be depend on which standards are currently up for, or actively under review. Perhaps the most recent has been in Eye Protection where the updated EN 16321 suite of standards has been published. In Head protection interest ranges across multiple usage area from hard hats to firefighters helmets to equestrian helmets and all with their particular standards and challenges.
Hearing protection, of the categories in this group, is the only Category III risk area, with the products placed on the market under EN352, a standard which saw major revisions in 2021 and were reported on at that time. For many years the group has attempted to conclude the discussion around proper testing of hearing protection for small children, and indeed the benefits of “Fit Testing” this has not yet been resolved but work continues.

The Respiratory Protection SIG:
This group are a particularly active and engaged SIG working diligently in this critical risk category. A group whose expertise was called upon during the pandemic and one that is still concerned with product first placed on the market at that time. HSE produced a safety alert on ear loop masks and under UKCA designated standards there has been a move to put a restriction on any presumption of conformity to EHSR under EN149. However, this may not be acceptable given the Regulation precludes restricting design characteristics and it may be that the most appropriate way to control this product put-up is to enhance the total inward leakage (TIL) requirements of the standard, which in actual fact is currently under review. The SIG’s flagship guidance – Clean Air Take Care was originally due to be published in early 2023 but that has been held back until the beginning of 2024. Many of the SIG members also have interests in other respiratory stakeholder groups such as ISRP and BOHS and the SIG provides a perfect forum for effective collaboration. The “Respiratory” group also keeps a close interest in the Fit2Fit Competency scheme for face fitting as it is an essential part of respiratory protection when using tight fitting face masks to mitigate the risk.

The Spill Containment and Control SIG:
The “Spills” group is a diversion away from front-line PPE and safety however, PPE is very commonly sold as part of spill and clean-up kits and so the members need to stay alongside safety and regulatory requirements, in addition to their core areas of activity. Like the other elements of BSIF the “Spills” group are heavily focused on education and good practice with many holding the sought after BSIF Approval on their First Responders to Liquid Spills training courses. Unlike other SIGs where the Regulatory interface is with the HSE the participating regulator for this SIG is the Environment Agency (EA). We are fortunate now to have an engaged and motivated member of the EA participating. The EA are keen that we continue to develop the Environmental Safeguarding Advice documents and indeed develop these to accommodate new risks in developing technologies such as the challenges posed by lithium batteries. The Spills group has successfully breathed new life into the BSI Standard BS 7959 which was at risk of falling off the register.

The Height Safety SIG:
Working at height remains a major contributor to the country’s serious and fatal accident statistics and the BSIF SIG work tirelessly to improve that record and indeed the behaviours and competencies of those involved in the industry. They have created a dedicated BSIF Height Safety website containing much useful information. The Group have also been heavily involved in the publishing of guidance on BS 7883 a standard which provides best practice recommendations for those responsible for the design, installation, maintenance inspection and certification of anchorage systems and devices used in personal fall protection. The SIG under an expert working group has successfully created an NVQ level 3 Qualification for “Permanent Fall Protection – Installer” and this scheme is now actively taking registrations. I congratulate the group and the Trailblazer team on their achievements it has not always been plain sailing.
I would observe that the focus of the SIGs work is in the area of permanent fall protection, an incredibly technical discipline. Going forward there is room for more inclusion of fall protection apparatus and PPE.

The Safety Footwear SIG:
Safety footwear is another significant PPE category in volume and value. The SIG is active and one for lively debate. In last year’s Guide I mentioned that the group had become focussed on the difficulty of safety footwear placed on the market claiming protection from electrical hazard. The product in question was on the market under Category II when we all know that within the Regulation this is a Category III risk. The Group worked with HSE and the BSIF Test and Certification Association (Approved Bodies) in order to overcome the difficulties and be able to certify product to the correct category. There is a full explanation of the initiative in the Guide Safety Footwear section. Also in that section Lloyd Preston talks about the revision of the footwear standards and the updated “Jargon Busters” created to help the market understand what they are buying. A very useful document updated from 2022- I commend it to you.

And so to the future……….The work of the SIGs will continue apace however, we do have ambitions to include duty holders and users in the conversation and we will evaluate the practicality of extending involvement in that arena.