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Battling against fake and illegal products

23 January 2013

David Lummis, CEO of the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF), discusses a
number of incidents involving illegal, non-conforming safety equipment which is
continuing to inhabit the marketplace, together with its Regist

David Lummis, CEO of the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF), discusses a number of incidents involving illegal, non-conforming safety equipment which is continuing to inhabit the marketplace, together with its Registered Safety Supplier Scheme that aims to help alleviate this problem.

Non-conforming high visibility vests, safety helmets and prescription glasses are regrettably only a handful of the products that continue to find their way onto the marketplace. Unfortunately, to the untrained and unsuspecting eye, illegal, non-conforming safety equipment is hard to distinguish and in many instances goes unnoticed until an accident occurs with often irreversible consequences! As a member organisation, the BSIF takes a heavy interest in monitoring the marketplace to help contribute to the curbing of this unprincipled behaviour. The BSIF liaises very closely with its members, including test houses, to look out for and react to fake and illegal personal protective equipment (PPE). The Federation also works closely with Trading Standards and Local Government Regulation, the national co-ordinating body, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Government Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) that has the responsibility to ensure appropriate CE products are available in the UK. At any one time, the BSIF can be helping to investigate a number of incidents regarding illegal, non-conforming safety equipment that we have been made aware of either through our members or the public.

A recent example of such an investigation was when it was brought to the attention of the BSIF that prescription safety spectacles were being sold as CE approved safety equipment, when in fact certification had not yet been granted. The BSIF became involved in this enquiry which led to the product being withdrawn from the marketplace until it had gained the required certification and the supplier/manufacturer was asked to write letters to its purchasers to apologise and amend for this behaviour. The actions carried out by this organisation were illegal; the people using the non-conforming safety glasses were therefore being subjected to unnecessary risk. However through one of our members 'raising the alarm' we were able to help ensure that the situation was rectified with the much needed preventative measures put into place.

Recently the BSIF established that a manufacturer of flame retardant garments had been found to be supplying workwear that significantly underperformed against the required flame retardant standard, EN ISO 14116. Alarmingly, the illegal products did not meet an acceptable minimum level of performance and were therefore putting workers exposed to high hazards at significant risk. Following the discovery of the non-compliant, flame retardant workwear, the BSIF immediately contacted the local distributor and through them, the manufacturer/importer.

Fortunately the distributor took immediate and decisive action, stopping all further supplies and recalling all non-conforming flame retardant products from its customers. The organisation immediately suspended all further supplies from this manufacturer, pending a full investigation of the breaches of quality control by the manufacturer which lead to receiving poor quality workwear. Another distributor of the same products took similar action. Subsequent to this, the manufacturer wrote to all other distributors informing them of the problem and outlining actions to recover the faulty product. A full recall was essential to prevent further risk to users (and of course to ensure the manufacturer and its distributors complied with UK law).

Additionally, in March this year an importer of 'low value' safety helmets was taken to court by trading standards for supplying non-conforming products, plus a major fall arrest harness manufacturer indicated that there may be supplies of counterfeit products from its range available in the European market.

The above situations are a clear example of the BSIF's commitment to protect workers and ensure only compliant product is supplied within the UK. The BSIF has gone one step further to help ensure compliant safety equipment is supplied to end users in the form of its Registered Safety Supplier Scheme that helps signpost purchasers of safety equipment to safety experienced and ethical companies who will work tirelessly to provide safety equipment that 'does what it says on the tin'.

Registered Safety Supplier Scheme
The BSIF introduced the Registered Safety Supplier Scheme in 2009 that allows its members to identify themselves as having made a formal declaration that they are selling only products that 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. The BSIF actively promotes this scheme to its members and encourages end users to look for the shield to guarantee compliance, performance and quality.

Being extra vigilant when looking after your workforce is essential when health and lives are at risk. By just 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, is a step 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. We urge you to continue to remain vigilant on such matters and together we can help contribute to stamping out this unscrupulous behaviour.