The increase of fake and non-compliant products and how to spot them
There are some checks that can be undertaken to avoid purchasing fake PPE, and some factors that should be considered when using face coverings to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The Covid-19 pandemic led to a rapid surge in demand for certain items of personal protective equipment (PPE). This, alongside product shortages caused by the constriction of international supply and new PPE suppliers entering the market, meant that procuring the correct PPE became more complex.
We are seeing too often products such as FFP2 and FFP3 respirators which do not meet the correct standards or that are supplied with fake or non-compliant certification. The stakes are incredibly high – with NHS staff, emergency services, public sector and key workers’ lives at risk – so now is not the time to be complacent.
At the outbreak of the crisis, and following recommendations by the European Commission, the UK government temporarily implemented a limited relaxation to Regulation 2016/425 to ensure that supplies of PPE for healthcare workers could be approved by a fast-tracked system.
This was the right thing to do at the time, given the global shortage of much needed equipment and the slowdown of the international supply chain, as countries placed limits on PPE being exported. However, at present there is not yet any roadmap for when the government will remove this relaxation and re-introduce the full approval requirements of Regulation 2016/425, which are essential to ensure that only high-quality equipment enters the market.
Key steps to avoiding fake PPE
We have seen a number of our customers asking us to verify the paperwork of new PPE they have procured. Unfortunately, we have identified several instances where the lab or notified body that carried out the testing and/or certification of the products was not actually approved to do so, or that the documentation itself was fake.
Anyone buying PPE for the first time or with limited knowledge and experience, should go to an experienced and reputable supplier for advice and guidance. For those purchasing PPE independently, there are two key things to ensure compliance:
Step 1: Ask for the correct supporting documentation – this will be a CE Certificate or, an (EU) Declaration of Conformity
Step 2: Check documents are genuine and legal – to do this, there are 10 things you should look out for – see the table below.
Certificate number or reference
A statement it remains the property of the notified body
Evidence notified body is in the EU
Address of the notified body
Information about the regulation
A statement that the PPE certified is in accordance with regulation (EU) 2016/425
Name and signature
Description, SKU number or code and specifications
Date of expiry
Max. five years after date of issue
Full name, address and test report references
Date of issue
Generally after 29 April 2018 – although RPE may have been issued before this date
Notified body’s information
Name and four-digit number
Terms and conditions
Additional page and link
Face coverings, what businesses need to know
A face covering is any covering of the mouth and nose, made of cloth or other textiles. Religious face coverings, a scarf, a snood or a bandana are also included in this.
A face covering is not classified as PPE and should not be used as an alternative to manage risks in the workplace. Face coverings are not specifically manufactured to a recognised standard and do not require CE marking, whereas respirators and filter masks (FFP2, FFP3) are manufactured and classified as category III personal protective equipment under the current UK PPE Regulations.
There is increasing evidence to suggest that wearing face coverings will prevent the spread of the virus and also protect the wearer. For instance, see the ‘rapid review’ of the science of the effectiveness of different face mask types and coverings published in June 2020 by the Royal Society and the British Academy.
However, face coverings are not a replacement for the other methods of risk management –including social distancing, hygiene, using fixed teams and partnering, and enhanced cleaning. In line with government guidance, these measures remain the best ways of managing risk.
Considerations when choosing a face covering
As face coverings are neither PPE nor medical products and therefore do not conform to any official standards, employers will need to use different criteria to choose a face covering that is suitable.
Employers should consider the performance efficiencies of the face covering including:
- Filtration efficiency
- Bacterial filtration efficiency
These should be considered alongside other features that will affect the fit and the use of the mask, such as:
There are two common shapes of face covering: flat-folded, which are made from fabric and are rectangular, often with pleats to let it stretch over your face; and curved and shaped ‘duck bill’ face coverings, which are designed to follow the shape of your face – these may provide a better coverage and fit.
Both are useful as long as the face covering fits the face snugly with minimal gaps around the nose, chin and the sides of the mouth. This is crucial as studies have suggested that gaps (as caused by an improper fit of the mask) can result in over a 60 per cent decrease in the filtration efficiency – see: bit.ly/3hfqKZN
A second factor to consider is a secure fastening and comfortable fit. The face covering’s fastenings should allow for adjustment of fitting, hold the face covering securely in place providing a snug fit and be simple enough to use so that it is easy to remove the face covering just using the straps. This prevents the wearer from touching their face.
Choose a face covering that can be washed with other items of laundry, according to standard washing instructions. Make sure that your mask that can be dried without it being damaged. A face covering will need to be washed regularly. Ensure that it is quick and easy to do so.
For comprehensive advice, Arco offers a range of expert guidance at: arco.co.uk/expert_advice_covid_19_advice_guidance
Neil Hewitt is director of QSHE UK and Asia at Arco
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