On the 21 April 2018, the health and safety industry will welcome an updated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulation, (EU) 2016/425, replacing the old PPE Directive 89/686 EEC. On this date, the transition requirements relating to the new Regulation come into force. This is a significant change to health and safety professionals, distributors, suppliers and importers of PPE, as it places the responsibility of product compliance on the entire supply chain, rather than solely on the manufacturer. The PPE Directive was one of the first Directives created for personal protective equipment and was documented as a resounding success. Its implementation helped to revolutionise workplace safety, improving accident rates and helping develop a healthy European PPE market.

In recent years, however, the existing PPE Directive has come under scrutiny by officials after products available on the UK marketplace were still being identified as non-compliant and potentially hazardous to UK workers.

What’s more, it was felt by many that the old Directive didn’t reflect new technologies and enhanced process within the industry and, therefore, needed to be brought in line with other Directives that have recently undergone updates.With increasing concern over the consistency of product compliancy, the effectiveness of market surveillance and whether technologies and processes diligently monitor products for non-compliancy, it was decided that the Directive should be both revised to address these concerns and implemented as a Regulation rather than a Directive.

The main difference between a Regulation and a Directive is that a Regulation is a legally binding European legislative act that must be adhered to across all of the EU, whereas a Directive is a legislative act that requires individual national statutory instruments to enforce the requirements

What’s changing?

Currently, the responsibility of PPE compliancy sits with the manufacturer, with little accountability falling upon the rest of the supply chain. However, this will be changing. Under the new Regulation, all those involved with the production, importation, distribution, manufacturing or sale of PPE, which the new Regulation refers to as ‘Economic Operators’, will have a level of accountability and will be legally responsible to ensure products comply with safety standards. The PPE Regulation clearly defines that an importer or distributor who markets a product available in Europe under their own name, brand or trademark becomes liable for the full manufacturers’ obligations.

This change in responsibility across the entire process aims to reduce the number of non-compliant and counterfeit products entering the UK marketplace, with an increased level of caution required by all Economic Operators, rather than solely the manufacturer.

Another important change to be aware of is the reclassification of some products from Category 2 (Intermediate) to Category 3 (Complex). This means that these risks are now subject to the strictest conformity assessment procedure and ongoing surveillance. For example, all types of hearing protection against harmful noise have been reclassified to Category 3. This should assist with a number of issues currently facing the health and safety industry; eliminating cheap, low-quality PPE, and leading to improved product design.

How does this affect me?

It’s important that those involved in PPE, whether as an Economic Operator or a procurement manager, understand how the new Regulation will affect them.

Economic Operators need to ensure they fully comprehend any new or shared responsibility moving forward. From April, before placing any PPE on the market, Economic Operators will need to ensure the appropriate conformity assessments have been carried out by the manufacturer. The manufacturer must comply with these checks and offer any evidence required to ensure the PPE is compliant. If any of the Economic Operators feel the products are not fully compliant and don’t conform to Regulation, they cannot place it onto the market. Additionally, the manufacturer and the relevant market surveillance authorities must be informed of these failings.

Those purchasing PPE for workers need to understand how the transition requirements will affect product certification. In general, products can be placed on the market until 21 April 2023 using a current EC type Examinations certificate, as long as the product meets the requirements of the new Regulation, however, this is not the case if the expiry date of the certificate is earlier than that; the products must be removed from the market or recertified to the regulation. There are three exceptions to this that those responsible for the purchase of PPE should be aware of:

1 Products where there has been a change in design or manufacture since their last EC Type Examination – ask your supplier for new certification.

2 Products where there has been a change in the standards – always check to see if you’re buying PPE to the most current standard.

3 Products that have changed category under the new Regulation – check that the PPE, which is now classified as CAT III, is now recertified to the regulation.

Ahead of the new regulations, Arco is encouraging purchasers of PPE to do three things: ask suppliers for a declaration of conformity, showing original certification; to define their process for sample testing; and ask the suppliers to define their process for quality assurance.

A safer workplace

As a promoter of improved safety standards and a market leader in industry compliance, Arco highly endorses this new Regulation and welcomes the change, as it will result in the quality of PPE supplied to workers becoming a universal responsibility.

Compliant and safe PPE equipment that meets the safety standards should not just be the duty of one person, or one section of the supply chain, everyone should be accountable, ensuring fatal and non-fatal injuries in the workplace are reduced.

These changes are welcomed by many, including Arco, and take important steps towards raising standards of PPE, driving product innovation and eliminating inferior products from the market. However, the Regulation needs pro-active support from the industry to ensure its full impact is felt.

With this long-awaited change about to be enforced, this Regulation could become a landmark in safety history, dramatically enhancing UK safety standards and maintaining the country’s position as world leaders for workplace safety.