As we started 2020 I remember thinking ahead and considering what the main challenges would be facing the safety and health industry after Brexit.
Other information though, was coming out of the far east at that time, the impact of which we really did not appreciate. The news was of course, the reporting of the emergence of the novel corona virus, now renamed COVID 19.
The virus, originated in Wuhan, China, in late December 2019 and the lockdown action that the Chinese government took to contain the disease had immediate impacts for PPE production and availability. Wuhan and Hubei are significant producers of respiratory protective equipment and limited life coveralls.
The warning signs for the supply chain were emerging, and the disease was spreading, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring a global public health emergency on the 30th of January.
In early February BSIF began to make the UK authorities aware of the potential shortage, focussing our communication on the effects on Industry, our primary area of activity. What was not anticipated was the rate of spread of the virus or the level of disruption that it would create.
As we publish this newsletter the UK is in lockdown with all but essential work closed and the whole of industry is attempting to source appropriate PPE for the amazing workers in healthcare and social care.
The lack of availability of PPE required to protect people especially front line healthcare staff began to become obvious to the authorities by the first week of March. By the 5th of March EU states including France, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic had imposed export bans of (RPE Masks, Eye and Face protection Gloves and Limited Life Workwear) the products needed in the battle against COVID 19. This exacerbated an already difficult situation as the supply of PPE, already significantly interrupted, faced an exponential increase in demand.
The European Safety Federation, of which BSIF holds the Presidency, protested to the EU Commission making it clear that the extraordinary closing of borders would make the supply of PPE even more difficult. On the 9th of March ESF published and supplied the Commission with the document “The impact of COVID 19 virus on the PPE market”, seeking to have normal trading routes restored to enable the products to get to where they were required. The closing of national borders meant that many PPE suppliers could not now follow their central warehousing and logistics models if the facilities were located in countries, which had applied export bans. Nor could PPE even transit that country to get to a 3rd country destination as that would have seen their stocks withheld.
While these actions were taking place the EU Commission, through contacts supplied, was reaching out to manufacturers of PPE asking them directly about the status of their stocks, their production capabilities and their willingness to participate in an EU controlled procurement programme.
By mid – March the UK Government had set up a Cabinet Office led team, to try to get the necessary PPE for healthcare workers. BSIF has been front and centre with this initiative liaising and advising between the Cabinet Office, BEIS, HSE and Trading Standards.
At the time of writing the UK has just announced that we will accept the EU Commission Recommendation 2020 403 on conformity assessment of COVID relevant PPE which is in fact a light touch approach to product approvals. This will enable products which have not completed the full EN approvals under 2016/425 to be placed on the market. But importantly this is only for products to be sold to healthcare workers and also importantly the process in 2020 403 must be followed. All information is available on the BSIF website www.bsif.co.uk
As ever in a crisis situation we are seeing a surge in non – compliant product being offered supported by extravagantly counterfeit documentation. It is vital that everyone remembers that PPE must be adequate to protect the individual from a hazard and suitable for the individual. If these conditions are not met individuals will not get the protection they need and deserve.
Despite the shortages we implore all our BSIF members to ensure that PPE that is brought in to the UK performs properly.
Please follow the guidelines and stay safe.