Working together

19 June 2023

Since the founding of BSIF in the early nineteen-nineties we have, through the Special Interest Groups (SIGs), provided forums for the industry to discuss, debate and share information across all areas of the industry enabling an informed and consistent approach to our market.

THE BSIF SIGs play a crucial role in the cascading of information on products, standards and issues central to the sector and the membership’s efforts to ensure that people are kept safe and healthy while they are at work.

Through the groups we are “uniquely” able to take representation from all across the supply chain with manufacturers, importers, distributors and providers of specialist services all participating. Further the SIGs often have representatives from the regulators, the Health and Safety Executive and Trading Standards as well as the conformity assessment bodies. This provides a comprehensive assembly of those able to affect the development of products and services for the safety and health industry. Through participation in the SIGs, an individual can be nominated through to the BSI PH committees ensuring that they also have the opportunity to influence standards being developed and reviewed. From the PH committees, an individual can also participate in the CEN and ISO international committee structures.

Open to all members SIGs are often the embodiment of the Federation and meet up to three times a year, through a combination of face to face and hybrid remote meetings. Our SIGs are defined by specific areas of interest, be that driven by product type or by area of risk. The current structure is 

  • The Height Safety Group
  • The Respiratory Protection Group
  • The Eye Face, Head and Hearing Group
  • 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 following is a brief update and overview of the work currently being undertaken by each group. 

The Respiratory Protection Group

This group is a very long standing and active group. During 2022 it has carried some of the overhang challenges of the pandemic. Amongst many other things the influx of ear loop masks, has been a catalyst to look at a review of the relevant standard EN 149. The BSI PH committee takes, and gives, input and feedback through this forum. This SIG continues to contribute to the challenges of RPE being suitable for an increasingly diverse workforce. The difficulties in this area were highlighted during the pandemic where the make-up of the healthcare workforce was very different to the traditional industrial, gender and ethnic picture. The “Respiratory Group” also takes an active interest in the Fit2Fit face fitting competency scheme. The Clean Air Take Care guidance is currently being updated and will be shared widely by BSIF early in 2023. As with many of the groups the participants are expert and dedicated to improving respiratory health for the UK’s workforce.
This SIG provides the perfect medium to work with other stakeholder groups such as the British Occupational Hygiene Society and the International Society for Respiratory Protection.

The Safety Footwear Group

Safety footwear is a very significant category in the PPE market and the SIG benefits from engagement by all of the leading brands. In 2021 a very useful “Jargon Buster” document was provided helping wearers and specifiers navigate the terminology of the market. The diversity challenge is very real in safety footwear and the group are actively looking to engage with the market to widen choice for all. High on the Group’s agenda is the topic of footwear for electrical hazards. Most commonly safety footwear is placed on the market under Category II conditions but an electrical hazard is clearly Category III and should be governed by those rules, including ongoing independent quality assurance by an “Approved or Notified Body”. This is not the typical position currently, but it is the requirement of the PPE Regulation, confirmed by HSE. Watch out for communication on this topic in the coming months as there will undoubtedly be impacts across the market. Apart from taking and providing input into product standards work, these 2 situations are the current priorities for the group.

The Protective Glove and Clothing Group

This group, as can be seen from the name, combines its’ focus across gloves, hand protection and protective clothing and even includes such products as knee protectors. This makes great sense as there is commonality across many of the materials and fabrics used in these products. During 2021 the group published some very informative pieces on laundering and logo-ing of product. 2022 has seen the hard work of the group continue as it stays abreast of the vast range of, ever evolving, product standards. Like other groups the need to create change and provide suitable product in a market to reflect diversity and inclusivity of wearers is front and centre of their activities.

Focus in this area is provided through a sub-group working on the enhanced visibility standard where the provision of adequate protection and a range of (smaller) sizes is in conflict with the standard as it is currently written. The next steps from this sub group will be to provide information and education and a longer term approach to amending the standard.
It is difficult to express the breadth of work undertaken by this SIG in just a few sentences, but suffice to say that in the BSI PH committee structure there are currently 22 sub-committees covering the range of interests and all with the participation of the SIG members.

The Eye Face, Head and Hearing

This SIG is another group focused on a range of hazard and product areas protecting head, eyes and face and hearing, where protective products are often worn in combination. The use of PPE in combination has been the subject of guidance from the SIG under the title “Just because it Fits”, this item will be updated in 2023.

A long standing area of interest for the group is hearing protection for children; another example where the product standards and conformity assessment are at odds with the needs or some wearers. All PPE is required to fit the wearer and in the hearing protection category there is a groundswell for demonstrating product performance through proper fit testing to ensure the product is suitable for the individual and is providing protection. The group would like to see the expansion of fit testing in this area and it will be a topic to consider in the months ahead. 

There have been new standards created in eye and face protection whose affects are currently being considered. In the area of head protection more and more consideration is being given to the dangers of rotational head and brain injuries, a future focus of this group. 

The Height Safety Group
Working at height and height safety is a technical area and in many ways, a science all on its own.. This category and the Special Interest Group deal with specific PPE, but also the range of equipment involved in the provision of effective safety management when working at height. The group has its’ own website and produces very effective free to all literature and companions to working with the applicable standards. Perhaps the specific challenge this group faces is that it must embrace and inform a wide range of parties well beyond those interested in PPE, including equipment installers, building managers, and system designers. This is an area where the SIG is concerned that the industry has much room for improvement and it plans to create a range of educational video presentations across the range of disciplines needed. The presentation once produced will form the agenda and content for an industry wide webinar in 2023. 

The Spill Containment and Control Group

Moving outside of frontline PPE and Safety per se, BSIF also has a Spill Containment SIG which very much reflects the ideals of the Federation and the other SIGs, focussing as it does on skills improvement, market education and product quality. 
Unlike PPE spill containment products do not have a history in the CE system and the British Standards are not used as the common reference point often enough. The standards are ageing and in some cases have been withdrawn. The Spills Group has stepped up and will seek to provide the ongoing expertise to BSI to enable the re-establishment and maintenance of the applicable standards.

Where other SIGs are supported by the HSE, the Environment Agency (EA) is the relevant regulator and recognises the BSIF group and the work it does. It supports the Spills Group Water Pollution Prevention awards and inputs into the publication of the Environmental Safeguarding Advice literature. This group manages the qualification and approval of training courses for “Spill Response” ensuring that quality in this sector is maintained for the benefit of all.

The Test and Certification Association

This group are different to other BSIF Special Interest Groups and are in fact an “association” with their own set of rules. The Test and Certification Association, or T&C for short, provides a forum for all of the UK Approved Bodies who are recognised by the government (BEIS) and authorised to make product approval decisions for PPE. Previously under the EU PPE regime the Commission mandated and funded the Horizontal Group of Notified Bodies, under UKCA no central funding is provided by government. BSIF therefore hosts this group and while “informal” it has become the de facto horizontal group of Approved Bodies for UKCA. The group consists of all of the UK Approved Bodies (in PPE) and it also welcomes as guests the chairs of all of BSIF’S PPE SIGS, who bring a manufacturer and user perspective to the table. 
Also participating in T&C meetings are representatives from BEIS, as well as observers/welcomed guests from the “Regulators” the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Trading Standards (TS). In addition, the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), are part of the group. This is a unique collection of experts and stakeholders, bringing together all those with working with the PPE Regulations as they apply in this country. 

Given who sits round the table it would be reasonable to expect that clear and consistent decisions are able to be made and that implementation of the rules should be straightforward. However, the frequency of changes made by the government in the implementation of the PPE Regulation, following our departure from the EU and the lack of ability or willingness from them to clarify essential points in the rules continues to compromise effectiveness. 

We believe this is a fantastic forum and we will continue to work so that the PPE Regulation can be applied correctly and consistently.

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