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A clearer picture

05 October 2022

We put the spotlight on PPE and our latest survey uncovers the views and opinions about PPE regulation, procurement and innovation. Kelly Rose looks at the results.

The annual PPE Survey has been gathering thoughts and views on the PPE market for a number of years, and we have seen an increase of 104% in the number of participants from last year's survey, which means we can get an even clearer picture of how users source products and information, what they want for the future and gaps in their knowledge. We also put the results to manufacturers to get their comments – so let's take a look at the results.

Again this year, 55% of the respondents are health and safety officers and managers, while 8% are at director level. Other job titles fell into the manager, engineer and consultant categories.

In terms of the industry where respondents work, construction was the highest (20%) and manufacturing was a close second (17%). Other choices included transport, educational, warehousing and medical amongst others. This gives us a real insight across a broad spectrum of industries.

The first question we asked was 'what considerations are important to you when sourcing PPE?' There were eight options and we asked for the top four from the following: Performance to claimed standards, functionality, comfort, image, sustainability, maintenance, availability and cost.

As this is a multiple choice question and many respondents selected a few to be their top priority, it is probably best that I give you the weighted results – this shows the average rating for each choice. The most popular choice has a weight of 1, while the least popular answer choice has a weight of 3.

Performance to claimed standards took top spot (1.23), functionality was second (1.4), with third place being comfort (1.62) closely followed by availability (1.66). The remaining results were maintenance (1.85), sustainability (2.02), cost (2.27) and in last place was image (3.04).

Marketing director at Unigloves, Donald Gillespie is not surprised by these results. He said, “This matches research findings with Unigloves users, their top three considerations are Performance, Comfort & Protection (Functionality).”

Divisional managing director for national & local accounts at Tower Supplies said, “As a BSIF member, Tower make an annual declaration and are audited and tested to prove that we only supply genuine products that are tested and certified to standards.

“This reassurance that performance will always be to claimed standards, allows buyers and wearers to focus instead on functionality and comfort as their key considerations. These two attributes should always be the most important, as they impact the use of PPE and the likelihood of it to fulfil its purpose as the last line of defence.”

Next, we asked 'what do you look for from your supplier?'. Respondents were asked to put them in order of their most important. The options and the weighted results were Quality Products (1.17), Capable Staff (2.0), Registered Safety Supplier Scheme (RSSS) (2.08) and Ethically Concerned (2.32).

Mark Dowling's comments to the results of this question were, “This further highlights the need for us to get the message out there of what it means to be a Registered Safety Supplier Member.

“It’s frustrating because if a buyer prioritised Registered Safety Supplier Scheme Member in their supplier search over everything else, it would provide reassurance on all the other three categories.

“I try to help buyers understand that by virtue of a declaration of membership to the BSIF, a supplier is already guaranteed to provide quality products.

“A BSIF membership doesn’t just prove product quality. It also confirms that staff are always capable and the people you deal with will be ethically concerned. It makes it all a given from the start.”

Biggest obstacles

The survey moved along to ask 'what are the biggest obstacles you face when sourcing PPE?'. The respondents were asked to cite their opinion, rather than select from options – and there were no surprises here. Availability was the biggest obstacle with 22% mentioning it, although it is worth noting that last year some 27% mentioned this, so clearly improvements have been made. Cost came in second (15%). Many of the replies cited that sizing was an issue. One said, “Having sizes for all individuals XXS to XXXXXL” with another mentioning “fitting for all employees (female employees)”. Consistency of supply was also commented on; one respondent said, “once we have a product we like being able to get the same again.” 

When asked 'what could your PPE suppliers be doing to make the procurement process smoother?' the most common word in the responses for the second year running was stock – no surprise considering availability was the biggest obstacle.

Alan Murray, CEO of BSIF said, "It is interesting to see that stock issues still have a profile and the challenges created by the shocks of the pandemic and the supply chain disruptions are still to fully wind out."

Having live stock figures and a trace and trace and track for delivery were suggestions that would make procurement smoother. Communication seems to be lacking with many of the respondents wanting more emails and virtual communication. One asked for “Regular updates on availability, new products, competitive prices for repeat orders,” while another just wants their supplier to “answer their phone!”, and having a “crystal ball” was another suggestion of simplifying the process. But one of the main things that these respondents want is “honesty” and “delivering on promises”. 

It is not all doom and gloom though – many that are generally happy: “I only use one supplier for my PPE, This is ordered through their online portal so I'm very happy with my current supplier.”


The next section of the survey focused on using PPE, so we kicked off this part with a question on training. We wanted to know, “Do you train staff using PPE and if so how?”

While only 41% said yes, there was also the option to skip the question, so for many this question may not have been applicable for. So, let's explore how this training is taking place.

The buzz words for this question included 'tool box talks' 'face-fit-testing', 'demonstrations', and several mentioned receiving training in 'how to don and doff PPE'. For those who are unfamiliar with this expression, this is the method and order of putting on your PPE to ensure your clothing and skin are not contaminated with potentially infectious materials. 

One respondent commented, “During the pandemic we took out the initiative of training all workers on the proper way of wearing mask, gloves and how to dispose of them as well.”

So it is reassuring to see that there is a variety of different training methods being used and that most were happy with the training they are receiving.

Keeping on the training theme, we specifically asked, 'If you use or supply RPE, do you understand the need for face fit testing?'. Although 71% of respondents said yes, and for many of the remaining this was not applicable, it is concerning that there are still workers and employers who do not understand the importance of this.

Director of marketing and communications at Shawcity said, “In the recent HSM PPE survey, 71% of respondents who use or supply RPE said they understood the need for face fit testing. Which potentially means that up to nearly 30% are not aware of the benefits and obligations. 

“In fact, it is a legal requirement that any worker who is using tight-fitting respiratory protective equipment (RPE) must be fit tested by a competent person to ensure the mask or face piece fits correctly.

“The BSIF, HSE and other stakeholders have worked together to develop the Fit2Fit scheme, where employers can find a wide range of information and guidance on the different types of fit testing, as well as a register of accredited fit testers.

“While the scheme is not compulsory, the HSE does state that by following it employers will be doing enough to demonstrate good practice. Find out more at www.fit2fit.org.”


Moving on to innovation, we wanted to know where you see the most innovation taking place in PPE. RPE is leading the way with nearly 38% selecting this option. 

On these results, Ian Walbeoff vice president sales at Bollé Safety said, “Definitely the highest level of innovation will be RPE due to Covid and the pandemic, closely followed by eyewear.”

Most of those who participated in the survey agree with Ian with 22% believing that eyewear will see the most innovation. Gloves came in second with 25% and 23% selected ear protection.

Mark Dowling added, “This is an intriguing result. It’s likely that people are associating respiratory protective equipment (RPE) with innovation because the pandemic has put the spotlight on any shortfalls in design.

“But I have found that by far the biggest innovations in PPE are in sustainability. And sustainability as a driver for innovation covers most, if not all the other categories from the survey question.

“Innovations include biodegradable and certified carbon neutral disposable gloves, post-consumer and recycled polyester PPE workwear, and even safety footwear made from recycled bottles!

“These sustainability innovations are making it possible for more companies to improve sustainability. It’s one of the hottest topics I talk about with buyers, and sustainability is a core focus for Tower.”

Marketing manager at Tilsatec,Eleanor Parkes commented, “It’s good to see the high level of innovation in hand protection post-pandemic being recognised. 

“Whilst there have been global challenges faced by manufacturers, end users now have a broader choice of solutions than ever before with new materials and technologies coming into wider use allowing for elevated protection in lighter, more comfortable products.

“There is also a clear mandate from businesses for PPE with more sustainable credentials, a category that will no doubt see significant growth in the future.”

Adding to this, Dave Bull MD at MCR Safety / Tornado Gloves said, "New technologically innovated cut resistant glove ranges with a variety of coating options have been launched to lead the market in this key protection sector."

The remaining options as answers for this question were footwear (20%) and workwear (18%) , so many of our readers clearly see that there is innovation still to come in these areas.

We moved the survey along, wanting to know where you go to find out information on PPE. There is no surprise that 86% of respondents go to their manufacturer, distributor or supplier. Pleasingly, 51% said industry magazines and their websites, and 32% go to membership organisations. Although I firmly believe many more should be using membership organisations to find out information, I'm delighted so many you (32%) said you use webinars educational conferences (17%) as a source of information. 

Standards & legislation 

Next we asked, 'are there any areas in PPE where you think standards and legislation could be improved?' 33% of our respondents said there are. While most were vague about where they wanted to see improvements, many commented that when it comes to hearing, there needs to be better testing, similar to face-fit-testing for RPE.

Unfortunately, 28% still do not know what the UKCA mark is and when it will be used in the context of PPE and comments indicate that it is generally felt that there has not been enough coverage on it.

The UK Conformity Assessed (UKCA) mark is the conformity mark of the new regulatory regime that approves PPE for use in the UK now we have moved out of the European Union. UKCA will be used for GB. In Northern Ireland (NI) the UKNI mark will be used and CE will continue to be accepted.

From 6 April 22, the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 2022 came into force, updating the 1992 Regulations. Under the new rules, employers must ensure workers who carry out casual work (known as limb workers) receive the same level of protection as employees.

So, we asked 'are you aware of the recent changes that came into force requiring PPE supply to limb workers?'
Many are aware and are pleased with this change, while some hadn't heard of this and wanted to know more. Some of the comments included:

  • It is only right that limb workers should be provided the same protection as others

  • All my clients were made aware and yes it is an extra cost

  • Yes I am aware and we as a company supply PPE for all workers where the risk negates irrelevant of their employment status

  • Casual workers are also required to be provided PPE, which can increase costs but ensure everyone stepping onto site is safeguarded.


The last section of the survey looked at sustainability. We asked 'what do you do with your PPE at the end of its life?' 

There was a real mix of responses with some recycling, some disposing and for some it is a mixture of the two depending on what can be recycled or not.

Donald Gillespie said, “It'’s encouraging to see recycle at number 2 on the list, it would be interesting to see what the change is year on year. I’m sure it will be up as companies are becoming more focused on sustainability and the impact on the environment.”

Following on from this, we asked, 'how do you think sustainability will drive trends in PPE design and supply going forward?' Responses focused on longer-lasting PPE that is more environmentally friendly. Ultimately, participants want their products to be more sustainable, but not sacrificing any safety elements of their product.

We then asked 'are written user instructions needed with every piece of PPE?' 63% said yes. While some stated that 'some PPE is straight forward enough to not require any further instructions' others are a firm believer that 'without this information, the PPE can be misused or be ineffective.'

Mark Dowling said, “There’s only one right answer: yes! Legally, written instructions must be provided with PPE. And yet over 35% believed this was not the case. This may again point to experiences with uncertified PPE.

“Both those issuing the PPE and those wearing it should be encouraged to pay attention to written instructions and read them carefully. And not just when they first use it either.

“Employers must also ensure workers have sufficient information, instruction, and training on its use. That includes PPE care, maintenance, compatibility, and how to safely combine complementary PPE.”

Alan Murray commented, "The annual survey of the PPE market continues to play an important part in providing information and intelligence within the industry. PPE is a vital part of safety and health and it is reassuring to see that product performance is such a key demand from users. While that may be obvious, all too often price pressure can drive compromise and not all PPE is the same. Users deserves quality products from capable suppliers.

"The BSIF and our members are working on several strategic fronts which featured in survey responses. Our "Sustainability Strategy will be published within the next 2 months and our Protective Glove and Clothing Special Interest Group are leading on the development of range size and fit to cater for a wide working population.

"BSIF members and Registered Safety Suppliers continue to go above and beyond to support the safety and health needs of their clients."

This survey is an eye-opener into the thoughts and opinions of people at the hard end of PPE, the ones using it and the ones it is protecting. For these people it really is their last line of defence in the event of an accident. It is clear that there are knowledge gaps that need to be filled in, but it is also reassuring that many know where to turn to for information. Educating wearers is key so that they buy and wear compliant PPE. Ensuring that workers return home safe and unharmed at the end of their working day is of the upmost importance, so by undertaking this research we can find out where the knowledge gaps are and where to focus development and innovation. 

PPE Digital Conference

Health and Safety Matters hosted a free-to-attend digital conference on 30 June 2022, which provided a unique agenda of great content delivered by key industry speakers. Sessions are still available on demand, so you can still benefit from this content. 

It was hosted in partnership with the British Safety Industry Federation and attendees enjoyed CPD seminars delivered by Health and Safety Executive, Trading Standards, Government Departments, manufacturers and industry bodies, which not only helped delegates to identify suitable and compliant PPE, but also covered all the latest regulatory updates for PPE.

Given the gaps in knowledge that our reader survey uncovered, this conference is a fantastic resource that will help to fill in some of those holes. You can also pick and choose which sessions you want to watch.

The agenda included:

  • Product Safety Market Surveillance Unit & HSE Strategy - Mark Dawson, Health and Safety Executive

  • Designated Standards and PPE - Rob Harper, Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy/Office for Product Safety and Standards

  • PPE – The Role of Trading Standards & Trading Standards in Action - Vicki Burch, Trading Standards

  • UKCA & PPE - Christopher Smart, Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy/ Office for Product Safety and Standards 

  • Product Safety Framework Review and Recommendations - Sue Bide, Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy / Office for Product Safety and Standards

  • Highlights and priorities from around BSIF Special Interest Group – Alan Murray, British Safety Industry Federation

  • The Registered Safety Supplier Scheme – Roy Wilders, British Safety Industry Federation 

You can catch up with all these sessions on demand at www.hsmppe.com