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Product quality and market surveillance of PPE in the UK

24 July 2017

As the UK Safety market is aware the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) and its membership are dedicated to ensuring that the UK workforce receives the protection, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is designed to deliver.

PPE is the last line of defence protecting the individual from harm and it is vital that it performs.

In the last year the Federation strengthened the terms and conditions of the Registered Safety Supplier Scheme (RSSS) and introduced random testing of members products because we were concerned that the marketplace market surveillance of PPE, the responsibility of “Trading Standards”, was being overlooked.

The testing programme within the RSSS has become established and is confirming the fears that there is an unacceptable amount of PPE that does not achieve the claims that the products make and therefore potentially put users’ safety and health in jeopardy.

When we first designed the testing protocols we believed that the lack of compliance would come from Category I and II products which do not require ongoing quality assurance by the manufacturer or brand owner. However, our testing has also found problems with Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) in particular disposable masks failing, even though they are Category III, and require at least annual quality assurance checks. Indeed, in 2016 the Health and Safety Laboratory conducted market research which found 20% of the disposable masks they tested failed to perform to the necessary standard.

The need for the market to have a Registered Safety Supplier Scheme with the ability to provide assurance to users has never been greater.

However, we as a Federation should not be expected to do this alone. Product Safety (including PPE) is of course ultimately the responsibility of manufacturers or brand owners but the enforcement of standards and management of any product recalls is the responsibility of Trading Standards.

Trading Standards like many public services are under strain due to constraints on resources and the broad range of products and services that that they are required to cover and the consequent lack of specialist expertise that demands.

BSIF have worked closely with Trading Standards over the last 18 months to establish PPE on their radar and to support with training and education on PPE and the market and intelligence on product issues.

We called for their involvement and support in discharging their responsibilities and I am pleased to say that at the beginning of 2017 they launched a wide ranging investigation into the Chromium VI and Azo Dye content of leather products. The investigation included leather work gloves, but illustrating the constraints mentioned above, the programme needed special funding by UKTI, and so other leather products needed to be included such as fashion gloves and children’s footwear.

In addition to protecting users the UK needed to illustrate that it was delivering market surveillance of the domestic market within its’ EU single market responsibilities.

In data extracted from the Rapex database (the EU product safety notification and alert database) there were 54 notifications of Protective Leather Gloves with banned levels of Chromium VI and AZO dye. Not one of these notifications was posted by the UK authorities.

It was apparent that the UK needed to formally investigate the home market.

The investigation was a joint initiative between Trading Standards, The Health and Safety Executive and the British Safety Industry Federation. It was and is a real example of industry and the regulators working together.

During January and February 2017 Trading Standards officers sourced 68 leather PPE gloves from both Category I and Category II. These products were then tested at UKAS accredited laboratories for levels of Chromium VI and AZO dye. In short the result was that 9 samples failed for Chromium VI and 2 samples failed in tests for Azo dyes a 16% failure rate.

This  investigation and the result was proof positive that there are issues of product safety and product performance in our market that need to be addressed. The exercise did however successfully manage to raise the profile of PPE within Trading Standards thinking, which is vital as we go forward with both the new PPE Regulation becoming “applicable” in April 2018 where there are wider product compliance responsibilities for commercial operators.

All BSIF members and Registered Safety Suppliers, supported by the Federation are investing heavily to ensure that they will be making all the necessary changes to comply with the new regulation but there be those outwith our membership that do not. The regulators must ensure that there is a level playing field and that compliance is monitored and policed properly. We will again be promoting the necessity for adequate resources for market surveillance to UK legislators and the benefits to the end users seeking supply of their PPE requirement from members of the Registered Safety Supplier Scheme.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will obviously have many consequences for the UK and it may mean that the UK will not be part of any EU market surveillance and early warning systems which will increase reliance on the Industry to ensure PPE is compliant. 

We will continue to work closely with and support Trading Standards at every opportunity. Members should be aware that BSIF has a “Primary Authority Agreement” with Trading Standards ensuring that no matter where they are located in the UK consistent product advice can be sourced through the Federation.