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It's time to take a stand on fake PPE

23 January 2013

David Lummis, CEO of The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF), considers the impact fake Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is having on the health and safety marketplace and highlights positive actions that can be ta

David Lummis, CEO of The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF), considers the impact fake Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is having on the health and safety marketplace and highlights positive actions that can be taken to help combat the problem

Unfortunately in this day and age counterfeit items being manufactured and sold within the PPE industry is a common problem. Over recent years, we have witnessed a plethora of items flood onto the market place, from gloves to high visibility vests, that have been produced using sub standard materials. However, they are often finished to a standard that to the untrained eye it is hard to distinguish whether they are genuine or fake.

Due to the purpose of the equipment, PPE needs to meet stringent performance standards. Quality, CE approved PPE meets and exceeds these performance requirements and will protect individuals from hazards faced in the workplace. If fake and illegal products are used in their place, the consequences could be fatal. After all, people should be able to enter the workplace every day confident in the knowledge that they will be able to return home fit and healthy. Fake and counterfeit items reduce this probability enormously and unnecessarily put many people's hopes and future wellbeing at stake.

Given the scale of this problem it is not something that can be fixed overnight but measures have been put in place to help combat the counterfeit PPE trend. Most of these measures rely on the ongoing communication between government bodies, trading standards, test houses, manufacturers, suppliers and federations.

Communication is key to helping stamp out this illegal practice.

The BSIF liaises very closely with its members, including test houses, to look out for and react to fake and illegal PPE. The Federation also works closely with Trading Standards and LACORS (Local Government Regulation), the national coordinating body, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Government Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) that has responsibility to ensure appropriate CE products are available in the UK. At any one time the BSIF can be dealing with a number of instances of illegal items in the UK.

The Federation's first recourse is to write to suppliers querying the validity or even existence of their approval certificate, which often leads to the products being withdrawn from the marketplace. If not, the BSIF will put the complaint forward to trading standards and the HSE who will put the correct procedures into action to tackle the culprit. Generally speaking though, once the products have been 'exposed' as fake, they soon disappear from the marketplace.

Many of these counterfeit products arrive in containers from the Far East and can be readily purchased via online auction sites or from street markets. It is quite easy to buy containers of 'safety' equipment direct and of course without the correct quality control procedures in place, the buyer will not have a clue what they are purchasing, thereby endangering lives. The BSIF has already had some success with getting fake equipment withdrawn from online auctions and will continue to look out for further opportunities to eradicate this method of trading in counterfeit items.

It is not really surprising that purchasers of PPE are now more wary about procuring items as there is general confusion over certified products, mainly due to the above-mentioned counterfeit items, falsified certifications and the potentially confusing CE symbol that stands for 'China Export'.

Nevertheless, there are measures at hand to ensure employers are buying and supplying the correct equipment.

Identifying compliant products The BSIF introduced the Registered Safety Supplier Scheme in 2009 that allows members to identify themselves as having made a formal declaration that they are selling only products which are genuine and legal. This declaration is, as a condition of the scheme, audited through special provisions set out within the company's ISO9001 Certification. Under the Registered Safety Supplier Scheme this independent audit is one of the key requirements to independently verify conformance; it is the BSIF's belief that the independent audit is a key part of the robustness of the scheme. Companies who have signed up to the Registered Safety Supplier Scheme are of course permitted to use the scheme's shield, helping them to stand out from the crowd. The BSIF actively promotes this scheme to its members and encourages end users to look for the shield to guarantee compliance, performance and quality. The Registered Safety Supplier Scheme acts as a signpost for people to ensure that they can buy from a reputable company whom they can trust to supply legal genuine products and provide good advice.

Certified goods will always be paramount in the health and safety world and being extra vigilant when looking after your workforce is essential when health and lives are at risk. Being aware of the type of counterfeit items available on the marketplace and remembering that offers that seem 'too good to be true' usually are, are steps in the right direction. Purchasing the right PPE is a big responsibility and safety equipment that doesn't perform properly isn't just inconvenient, it may actually cost lives.

For further information on the services provided by the BSIF and its Registered Safety Suppliers Scheme please visit: www.bsif.co.uk.