It’s a problem in Europe as well as the US – protective equipment that’s marked to a standard but may not meet the performance requirements – may not even have been tested. There’s no way to know for sure, so you buy from a trusted supplier that you know takes all the necessary steps.
In the UK the British Safety Industry Federation, the umbrella association for occupational safety and health, is taking positive action. As it notes in a recent article on its Web site, “It’s time to take a stand on fake PPE.”
BSIF says that “over recent years, a plethora of items have entered the market place, from gloves to high visibility vests, which have been produced using sub standard materials. Often these products are finished such that, to the untrained eye, it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify that they are fake.” In the words of federation CEO David Lummis, “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.”
In response, the BSIF has set up a program to give some definition to “trusted supplier.” Its Registered Safety Supplier Scheme enlists member companies – manufacturers and distributors – who are willing to make a binding declaration that all the products they offer will comply with appropriate regulations and perform as claimed. They have to make that declaration part of their company quality management program, and submit to periodic audits to ensure compliance. You can read all the requirements here. Users can search for products from registered companies on the association’s Web site.
Is it working? It’s too early to tell, although a number of companies have signed up and the association is promoting it vigorously, to get users to look for the Registered Safety Supplier shield when purchasing PPE. Would it work in the US? Such a program would require close coordination between a number of organizations and government agencies, get buy-in from distributors and marketers as well as manufacturers, and leap legal hurdles. ISEA is working on a voluntary standard that would enable manufacturers to declare how they are testing ensuring performance of PPE, and NIOSH is looking at possibly expanding the requirement for third-party certification. But certification itself isn’t the answer, because a certification mark can be counterfeited readily. The answer, as always, is to buy from a trusted source. BSIF seems to be taking the Ronald Reagan approach: “Trust, but verify.”