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Personal Protective Equipment: The rise of fake PPE

October 31st, 2013

In many industries personal protective equipment (PPE) is integral to employee safety. PPE is equipment which protects the user against health or safety risks at work. PPE can include respirators, protective gloves, protective clothing and footwear and eye protection.

The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) makes a hard-hitting statement on the reality of using fake PPE: “buying a fake watch may be illegal but it is unlikely to be life threatening. Supplying fake personal protective equipment (PPE) however could be the difference between life and death.”

What does the law say?

In accordance to the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 employers and the self-employed have duties concerning the provision and use of PPE. Regulation 4 states that suitable PPE should be provided by every employer to his/her employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work, except where and to the extent that such risk has been adequately controlled by other means which are equally or more effective.

The law means that all employees in environments in which they may be exposed to risks should be provided with adequate PPE.

Counterfeit PPE in the UK

Unfortunately, there has been a recent disturbing trend in the rise of fake and falsely certified PPE making its way onto the market. This is a serious problem which could easily result in increased accidents at work. The BBC recently highlighted this worrying trend in an episode of “Fake Britain” showing how the lives of thousands of workers all over the country are being put in danger because of fake safety equipment.

Construction union the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) have been campaigning to warn construction workers of fake PPE making its way onto sites. UCATT found hard-hats which had found their way on site which could easily be split in two by a person’s bare hands. A representative of UCATT raised concerns that fake PPE is a rising problem as it offers no tangible protection from very real hazards.

Steven Murphy, general secretary of UCATT said: “Purely and simply, fake safety equipment could kill. Construction is already the most dangerous industry in Britain. Workers need to check the authenticity of all safety equipment and if they have any doubts about its validity then they should not wear it.”

It’s likely that many of these products to the untrained eye may look like authentic PPE. Mr Murphy added: “Workers have a right not to be placed in danger, employers must take safety seriously and should not object to anyone requesting checks be made on their safety equipment.”

Avoiding fake PPE

As much of this equipment is hard to differentiate from genuine PPE, when purchasing safety equipment it’s essential to be wary of where items are purchased from. The main culprits of counterfeit PPE seem to be arriving in the UK from cheap auction sites.

To avoid any issues choose good quality products which are CE () marked in accordance to the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002. The CE kite mark signifies that the PPE satisfies certain basic safety requirements and in some cases has been tested and certified by an independent body.

Phil Bates, senior research and technical adviser at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), said: “The counterfeit market is quite large and has no morals or boundaries. Unfortunately where there is a product there is a counterfeit.

“Most people probably think of Rolex watches or designer cloths and movies etc., but the counterfeit industry will produce all sorts of things including counterfeit aircraft engine parts, so it is no surprise that there is counterfeit PPE on the market, especially when money is tight and organisations are looking to find the best deals.

“Getting the correct PPE is very important as it is the last line in defending a person from injury or even death.  The main advice for making sure your PPE is not counterfeit is:

–                      Buy your products from a reputable company, one that you have possibly known for some time or is a Registered Safety Supplier

–                      Make sure that the CE mark is present on the labelling and that it is clear  and at least 5mm high

–                      Look at whether the name and address of the manufacturer is on the user instructions, and if these instructions are available in English, clearly printed and clearly understandable

–                      Ensure that products meant for high risk activities, such as hard hats, chemical resistant gloves and respirators, carry a four-digit compliance standard code after the CE mark

“If the product is an unbelievable bargain, it probably is unbelievable if the product looks and feels poor quality it might be counterfeit. If in doubt you can ask the supplier if they can provide an EC declaration of conformity. If still in doubt you could contact the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) on: 01442 248 744 or the local trading standards office.  Some companies in the UK have been caught out for not knowingly supplying counterfeit PPE (hard hats) and were fined £14,000.”

For further clarification, The Trade Union Congress (TUC) produced a document to help safety representative’s asses PPE which can be found here.

Author Bio: Wynsors world of shoes are a northern shoe retailer, who offer a range of safety footwear design to protect you against the hazards of the work place. To find more information visit: Wynsors

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