Counterfeit PPE: What's the risk?

Posted 31 Oct 2018

A growing issue within the safety and construction industry is the influx of poor quality, counterfeit person protective equipment.

Though they may look exactly the same as the market-leading product at a glance, these versions do not meet the stringent standards and performance requirements laid out in health and safety guidelines.

The past few years have seen cheaply made versions of everything from gloves, helmets and high-vis flooding the market from areas such as the Far East.

These counterfeit products might seem perfectly functional at first, but their use can lead to serious injury, or worse, if used in a common construction setting.

Of course, most companies and contractors are aware of the risk of using poorly-made PPE, and would not even entertain the idea of subjecting workers to this danger. However, these products are often finished to such a high standard that even an experienced eye cannot differentiate them from top-quality PPE.

All employees have the right to enter a workplace and feel confident the equipment they have been issued is of a high safety standard. Fake and counterfeit items increase the risk of injury or death and put these workers at risk.

Fake and counterfeit PPE items can be easily purchased via online auction sites or from street markets, and it is simple to buy containers of ‘safety’ equipment direct; without the proper quality control procedures in place, the buyer will be completely in the dark about what they are purchasing, putting lives at risk.

Real or fake, can you tell?

Many exporters from countries such as China are muddying the waters by embossing a symbol apparently meaning ‘China Export’ on their products, but which looks very similar to the European Conformity (CE) symbol. A product being CE marked with no accompanying conformity information is not a reliable marker of quality.

It is vital that all PPE used is safe, made from the correct materials and tested to the applicable standard. If you are responsible for purchasing PPE, or are a site manager, this responsibility lies with you.

To reduce the risk of introducing counterfeit or ineffective PPE onto your site, there are some simple checks you can carry out.

  • Is the CE mark present on the product marking/labelling, and if so, is it in the correct font and at least 5mm high?

  • For high risk products, including respirators and chemical protective clothing, is the CE mark accompanied by a 4-digit number? (e.g. CE 0120)

  • Were written instructions for use provided within the product? Are the instructions for use printed in clear and legible text, and were they written in the language used in the manufacturer’s country of origin?

  • Is the name and address of the manufacturer detailed on the user instructions?

  • Does the certificate clearly contain the notified body’s name and number?

  • Is the notified body from within the EU? There are a few non EU notified bodies and therefore caution should be taken.

  • Does the certificate show signs of tampering i.e. differing fonts and sizes, colour changes etc?

  • Does the certificate contain a date and notified body signature?

  • Does the certificate have its terms and conditions included?

  • Does the certificate show a clear description of the product, including model references, specifications, and test references?

  • Does the certificate state that it is an EC type-examination certificate?

  • Does the certificate include a manufacturer’s name and address?

  • If a validity period is stated on the certificate, is it still current?

Being aware of the many types of counterfeit PPE available on the market today is a good place to start, and you should always remind yourself that if something seems too good, or too cheap, to be true, it usually is.

For more information on high-quality PPE or safety systems, call us on 01473 834 144 or use our online contact form.


by Carolyn Campbell

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