New regulations came into force earlier this year governing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). There is a transition period for the new regulations, but when they come into full effect they will replace a directive that is more than 20 years old. In other words, the new PPE regulations represent the biggest change in PPE standards and certification requirements in a very long time.
One of the biggest changes to the new PPE regulations is in relation to who they impact. What about health and safety managers? Here are the essential things you need to know.
What Are the Key Dates for the Implementation of the New PPE Regulations?
The new PPE regulations came into force on 21 April 2018. That said, manufacturers and suppliers of PPE can use either the old directive or the new regulations to certify new PPE products. This transition period lasts one year.
The next key date is 21 April 2019. As of this date, new PPE can no longer be certified using the old directive. Instead, all new PPE products must get certification under the new regulations.
The expiry date for existing PPE products that have an EC-type certificate issued under the old directive is 21 April 2023. By this date, all PPE on sale in the UK must have a certificate issued under the new regulations.
There are three exceptions to this:
- Products that have changed in some way (change of design or change of manufacturing process, for example)
- Products that fall into a category that have updated standards in the new regulations
- Products that now have a new classification – hearing protection is the most obvious example as, in the new PPE regulations, it has been upgraded to Category III from Category II
If any of these three exceptions apply to a PPE product, a new certification under the new regulations must be immediately obtained, i.e. manufacturers can’t wait until the 2023 deadline.
Some of the other changes to the certification process include the fact that certificates only last for five years before they must be renewed.
What About Changes in Responsibility?
Previously, only manufacturers had a responsibility to ensure PPE products complied with the standards set out in the old directive. This meant it was up to manufacturers to obtain certification for their products. Everyone else simply had to check this certification was in place before agreeing to distribute, retail, or purchase the product.
With the new PPE regulations, however, compliance responsibilities have been extended to everyone involved in the supply chain. This includes retailers and distributors. As a result, retailers and distributors of PPE are now legally responsible for ensuring the products they sell meet the requirements of the new regulations.
What Are Declarations of Conformity?
In addition to new certification rules and responsibilities, all PPE products must now be accompanied by a Declaration of Conformity. If it is not practical to provide a Declaration of Conformity with each product, there is the option of providing a link to a web page that has the declaration.
In the case of EU-based manufacturers, they are responsible for providing Declarations of Conformity for the PPE products they make. Wholesalers, distributors, and retailers must then ensure the Declaration of Conformity exists as well as ensuring they have access to it.
If the manufacturer of the product is based outside the EU, the responsibility for providing the Declaration of Conformity rests with the EU importer.
Other New Requirements for PPE Suppliers
The above is not the only change facing suppliers with the new PPE regulations. The most important is that suppliers of PPE equipment must have procedures in place to check manufacturers continue to produce products that meet the standard of the original certification.
Suppliers must do this in two main ways:
- Quality assurance checks on a manufacturer’s production process
- Sample testing products
Why Are the New PPE Regulations Needed?
The old PPE directive had a lot of holes that unscrupulous companies and individuals sought to exploit. Of course, those people will always exist. The new PPE regulations are designed to increase the numbers of individuals “policing” the system to prevent sub-standard PPE being issued to workers.
Here are some examples:
- Previously, a manufacturer could obtain a certification for a product and then alter the product or change the manufacturing process to make it cheaper to produce. Under the new PPE regulations, this will be harder for manufacturers to do.
- It used to be easier for dishonest distributors to supply a retailer with counterfeit products that didn’t meet safety standards. Sample testing will ensure this is much harder to do.
- It was easier under the old directive for PPE certifications to become out-of-date, i.e. the product on the shelves or listed on a website being different to the one that was originally certified. Shorter certification periods, as well as other measures in the new PPE, will help to mitigate this problem.
In addition to the above, the new PPE regulations include updated standards for some product categories.
How Will These Changes Impact Safety Managers?
To summarise, the general thrust of the new PPE regulations is to spread responsibility across the supply chain. The aim of this is to improve the policing of PPE products and reduce the risk of products that don’t meet the required standard being issued to workers.
Safety managers have a role to play in this. Specifically, there is now a requirement on safety managers to check PPE suppliers are compliant with the new regulations. This includes:
- Checking suppliers have Declarations of Conformity for any products purchased
- Checking suppliers have an adequate sample testing procedure in place
- Checking suppliers have an adequate quality assurance process in place to check manufacturers are producing PPE products according to the original certification
It is also important that safety managers are aware of any changes in standards to specific products. As mentioned above, these products will need to go through a fresh certification process – safety managers should ensure this is done before making a new purchase. It is also recommended that safety managers replace PPE equipment that doesn’t meet the new standards.
Of course, the above will have a knock-on effect on other health and safety procedures in organisations. One example is permits to work. While there is no specific requirement for permits to work to include a check on whether the PPE equipment issued meets new standards, it is probably best to do so.
What You Should Do Now?
Most health and safety experts give a common piece of advice to safety managers in relation to the new PPE regulations – you should make sure you buy PPE from a reputable supplier. Of course, this in itself doesn’t guarantee you will remain compliant. In other words, you will also have to take the steps above to ensure your supplier follows the new regulations. That said, this should be much easier to do with a quality supplier who wants to protect their standing in the industry.
One final point to remember is that Brexit will have no immediate impact on your need to comply with the new PPE regulations. After all, the Government has introduced legislation that matches UK law with EU law, i.e. the new PPE regulations will still apply the day after Brexit as they will still be UK law.
Of course, future Governments could decide to change this but, for now, you should work on the basis the new PPE regulations are here to stay.