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Ensuring safe advice throughout the supply chain

23 January 2013

The BSIF has become aware of issues regarding the difficulties in accessing suitable safety equipment and receiving relevant advice within deep supply chains. It is thought British industry spends in excess of £1 billio

The BSIF has become aware of issues regarding the difficulties in accessing suitable safety equipment and receiving relevant advice within deep supply chains.

It is thought British industry spends in excess of £1 billion a year on personal protective equipment (PPE). Yet poor selection and misuse means that much of this investment is wasted and can have serious consequences in terms of workplace health and safety.

Following the implementation of the Health and Safety at Work Act, every employer knows they have a duty of care toward employees and the provision of appropriate safety and personal protective equipment (PPE) has increasingly become a top priority for senior managers, directors and health & safety officers. This is often addressed through a risk assessment. In the case of larger companies this will be mostly carried out by a designated health and safety officer and lead to the specification of products to protect employees from highlighted risks. These products are often sourced directly from a manufacturer or through a distributor who will carry out a review of the hazard and ensure the specification of appropriate products. But it would be wrong to assume this is what happens in all cases.

Within smaller organisations there is often a lack of specific knowledge of PPE and risk assessments are carried out by personnel who are not expert. When employers are seeking assistance with minimising risks, there is a lack of awareness regarding the availability and sources of helpful information, especially in smaller companies or in sectors where significant use is made of contracted and self-employed labour i.e. construction, agriculture, hair and beauty, and so on. Similarly the availability of web-sites is not of use to small contractors, self-employed labour and contracted groups such as crop pickers, casual labourers, etc. as access to the internet is not always accessible.

Therefore in these situations there is a reliance on the supply side to assist with the selection of safety products with over 64% of these smaller companies seeking advice straight from their supplier. By working with a member of the BSIF, purchasers can be assured that they are using a reputable supplier who is committed to issuing genuine and suitable products and offering trustworthy advice. These can be easily identified through the BSIF's Registered Safety Supplier shield.

Neil Jowsey, sales and marketing director, Arco, comments: "As a nationwide distributor and a BSIF Registered Safety Supplier, it is important for us to keep close to the public and be on hand to offer our customers advice. Through our network of trade counters across the UK, customers can visit their local branch for immediate expert advice and guidance on product selection, fit and compliance. Each branch carries a core range of 3,000 essential safety products ensuring there will be something to suit everyone from occasional use as part of a hobby, through to everyday use." It must be accepted that people will go to a variety of sources to find the equipment they need and may not always use a specialist supplier. Retailers play a big part in the safety supply chain and are an ideal solution for smaller businesses, professional trade's people, craftsmen and DIYers, whose use of safety equipment may be moderate. It is thought that almost a quarter of customers using B&Q are doing so to purchase equipment for use at work e.g. smaller companies or the worker carrying out a job occasionally. This can be an issue for the wide range of PPE and safety products on offer including coveralls, safety gloves and hearing protection. Although the worker may know what type of product they need e.g. a respirator for crop spraying, they may not be sure of the exact product specification required and although the product may contain the relevant industry information, this may not be easily understood.

It is essential for manufacturers and distributors to be aware of the different sales outlets their products are destined for and understand the needs of the different audiences. This will then ensure better point of sale materials are produced alongside easy to understand user material providing clear guidance without commonly used jargon. The BSIF sees it as part of its role to educate its members to ensure that this clear and accurate information is passed through to the marketplace through their customers and retailers and therefore onto the end user.

Bernard Garvey, technical director, BM Polyco comments: "There is definitely the potential for issues with products in long supply chains. However invariably the customer, in this case the retailer, will ask the supplier to carry out the origination of the product and supply shelf ready packaging. By working closely with the retailer we can ensure that the product and packaging is as required and carries the correct information or warnings.

There may be some problems though for retailers who target a mix of customers e.g. Builders merchants, as there is often some cross over between the DIYer and the trade customer who may require more product information and a higher level of guidance to select the correct product." The BSIF wants to engage with everyone at all levels with responsibility either for themselves or employees across the different sectors to ensure that everyone can access clear and easy to understand information and would like to encourage potential purchasers to ensure they have sought the correct advice and information before purchasing safety equipment. See: www.bsif.co.uk for more information.