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Advice from ETI member ARCO, the largest supplier of PPE in the UK, on purchasing PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic

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By Lindsay Wright, Ethical Trading Initiative.

The purchase of certain PPE items has become increasingly challenging as the global surge in demand and international supply chain constrictions has led to a shortage of supply.  Also to combat the risk that the COVID-19 virus presents, many companies are now specifying face masks and coverings to protect their workers and customers for the first time. 

If purchasing PPE and face masks during COVID -19, follow the three steps below: 

Get advice on product selection

Assess the hazardous substance in the environment and the level of risk posed to workers. This will include the risk of exposure to viral infection. Issue the most appropriate PPE to minimise that risk. If full respiratory protection is not required, and the objective is to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, then a face mask will be a more suitable alternative. It is important that the higher levels of protective equipment are reserved for use where necessary, such as by the NHS, frontline responders and industries with specific hazards. Arco recommends Type II medical face masks. They are an effective means of preventing the spread of the virus from one person to another and will offer some protection to the wearer.

Ensure you are buying product that is tested to and compliant with relevant European Safety Standards

With an influx of PPE from new suppliers, some products entering the market have been found noncompliant and may not provide the appropriate protection, potentially posing a safety risk for the wearer. There is also evidence of false documentation, containing incorrect CE marking and declarations of conformity, making it difficult for purchasers to establish which products offer correct protection. When sourcing PPE from a new source, to ensure that you are buying compliant product it is recommended that you ask for the correct supporting documentation. Ask for two documents: a CE Certificate, and a Declaration of Conformity. It is also advisable that you check that the documents are genuine and legal. Advice on how to do this can be found on the Arco website and through the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF),

Check the supplier’s ethical credentials

Ensure you only work with ethical suppliers, with the increased numbers of new suppliers and extreme levels of demand it is as important as ever to check where your products are being manufactured and worker welfare is ensured. Ask your suppliers to share information about their supply chain, factories and management practices.

Arco advice about purchasing PPE during the pandemic and other safety measures to combat COVID-19

ETI/FairWear guidance and checklist on occupational health and safety and PPE