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Gloves are off

26 June 2018

As the last line of defence, PPE should be the highest possible quality, to make sure products are fit for purpose, according to xxx xxxx

THE UK leads the way in workplace safety and continues to do so, our regulations and management of work place health and safety have been the envy of many industrial countries but there are weaknesses in the system, particularly when it comes to standards of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the last line of defence for most employees.

Whether individuals are working at height, in confined spaces or on the factory floor, lives may depend on the quality of the PPE they are required to wear. The supply of high quality and reliable products should always be the number one consideration when sourcing and purchasing all types of PPE.

However, this enviable reputation is at risk. Recent findings have indicated that despite PPE having the required EC type approval and CE mark, some products that employers would rightly assume to be safe, may not actually be fit for purpose.

Nearly three years ago, Arco began to raise awareness of the issue of non-compliant products in the marketplace, as a result of due diligence testing in its own product assurance facility at its headquarters in Hull. The initial tests showed a high fail rate for non-metallic footwear toe caps, as well as midsole steel protection.

After a closer look at leather gloves, they found examples that contained illegal levels of carcinogenic chemicals including Azo dye and Chromium VI, based on the requirements of EN420:2003 and REACH regulations.

The  British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) went on to raise awareness of the issues with Trading Standards and as a result, port of entry checks were introduced as a way of preventing non-compliant products from entering the UK marketplace. However, independent testing on leather gloves is widely available in the marketplace and has revealed illegal levels of Azo dye and Chromium VI that exceed the limits set by the relevant standard. This is despite the fact that all the gloves tested carried the CE mark approval.

What are the dangers?

Both Azo dye and Chromium VI are restricted in the EU, due to the known harmful effects they may have to human health. Azo dyes are commonly used as a colourant in a range of textiles and leather gloves. Some of the dyes within the Azo family breakdown to form aromatic amines, which are carcinogenic. Dyed textiles or leathers that are in direct or prolonged contact with the skin should be tested for these aromatic amines, to ensure that the products meet the requirements of the required standard.   

Chromium salts are used in the leather tanning process and can exist in different states two of which are known as Chromium III and Chromium VI. In finished leather, it is usually present as Chromium III, however, it is possible that during the tanning process or under certain storage conditions, small amounts of Chromium III may be oxidised to Chromium VI. Chromium VI compounds pose a health hazard as exposure through wearing leather gloves is may pose a risk of skin irritation or allergic reaction.

The requirement for the control of Chromium VI is specifically detailed within the British and European standard BS EN 420:2003 + A1:2009 for protective gloves. Additionally, both Chromium VI and banned Azo dyes should meet the requirements of Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 REACH, and therefore the innocuousness requirements of the PPE Directive.

Keeping workers safe

Armed with these alarming results, Arco has embarked on a dedicated campaign to raise awareness of the potential risks to anyone using and relying on PPE and the CE mark.

This is especially important given that some of the substandard products are available on the market meaning in some cases employers are being falsely assured that the products they are buying are meeting necessary standards. Consequently, it can be extremely difficult for those buying PPE to identify true product compliance.

The responsibility falls to the manufacturer, importer or distributor who may not have the processes in place to ensure regular testing.  Anyone who has concerns over the safety of the equipment they are being supplied should:

  • Ask suppliers for a declaration of conformity that shows original certification for the PPE they are purchasing;
  • Ask suppliers to define their process for sample testing to ensure safety products continue to meet the required standards;
  • Ensure suppliers are members of the BSIF Registered Safety Supplier Scheme;
  • Ask suppliers to define their process of quality assurance at the manufacturing facility to ensure the products are being manufactured as they were originally certified; and
  • Always buy from a trusted source

Xxxx xxxcx is xxxx xxx at Arco. For more information, visit www.arco.co.uk