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Safety products personal protective equipment and Brexit

13 April 2017

On 29th of March 2017, nine months after the referendum on membership of the European Union, the now famous “Article 50” has been enacted, and the process begins on the discussion of the UK’s exit and future trading arrangements with the member states of the European Union.

The UK market for Safety Products Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Occupational Safety has been premised on EU directives and regulations for many years so the decision to exit the EU will obviously have wide implications.

Over the past months there has been a great deal of speculation as to how future relationships could look and suggestions as to the UK joining such organisations as the European Economic Area (EEA) and or the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) appear to have been dismissed.

We have been told that through an instrument with the working title of “The Great Repeal Bill” we will have continuity as the Bill will make clear that EU regulations – as they applied in the UK the moment before we left the EU – will be converted into domestic law by the Bill and will continue to apply until legislators in the UK decide otherwise.

The BSIF exists to support those businesses that help to keep people safe and healthy at work and we are working continuously in this period so that the needs of the operators in the Safety market are understood and when the time comes, effective structures can be in place to allow the market and UK PLC to be successful. The Great Repeal Bill will be a one off change in jurisdiction and will not deal with the ongoing dynamism of the market.

BSIF has recently been actively engaged in lobbying to ensure that those responsible for Brexit understand and appreciate our concerns and include them in the process of negotiation. Apart from individual meetings with MPs at Westminster we have been involved in the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy workshop on “Standards and Brexit” and the forum run by The British Measurement and Testing Association as well as directly meeting with the Department for Exiting the European Union.

We know that the EU revises product regulation frequently and there are major and minor revisions to PPE standards happening all the time and if we do not create a mechanism to stay abreast of changes we will see regulatory divergence, widening with time, adding a great deal of complexity and potential cost with no obvious benefit. In a similar vein we do not wish to see a future government making political points by repealing perfectly good (former) EU legislation just because it can! The PPE market on both the supply and user side works well under the current framework and we need disruption kept to a minimum.

We will, without a doubt, see an accelerating lack of influence from the UK over the development of product standards as, when we are no longer a member state the right of UK personnel and BSIF nominated delegates to sit on influential committees will no longer be there. Apart from representing UK interests the UK have often been seen by the committees as a broker of consensus, practicality and proportionality.

Recent discussions have addressed concepts as fundamental as what if anything would replace the CE mark? A UK quality mark has actually been discussed and it seems incredible that such a seismic change could take place in the market. However, while it is being discussed the BSIF must be there to illustrate the impacts that any changes would make and how they would affect UK manufacturers exporting to the EU and to UK occupational consumers who understand the CE mark and the specific product performance standards.  

It is essential that BSIF continue to protect the interests of the UK Safety Industry during this period and ensure that we are not on the wrong end of any unintended consequences resulting from the Referendum decision. One specific area that we have a major concern on is the status of UK Notified Bodies of which there are 12 in this country who are “scoped for PPE”.  In order to be a Notified Body and empowered to certify product, the Notified Body needs, currently, to belong to an EU member state. As we will no longer be a member state we need to ensure that the issue is understood and that adequate arrangements, such as “Mutual Recognition” are in place or the UK businesses will be harmed.

There is a great deal of work ahead of us and it would appear logical that as we exit the EU and develop our ambitions on a global basis there needs to be a move towards the recognition of the major worldwide standards so that UK businesses can operate in as many trading areas as possible including and beyond the EU.
The most practical way that that will be achieved is the widespread adoption of ISO (International Standards Organisation) standards. In order that this becomes practical the UK needs to devote resource and involvement in the ISO structures. This will require a change in government policy as recently the UK institutions had been withdrawing from active involvement.

The BSIF will continue to represent the interests of the Safety & Health Market at every opportunity.