Ensuring employees have access to suitable personal protective equipment has understandably become a top priority for every business right now, and as the country gradually opens up over the coming weeks and months it is set to be an increasing challenge for many firms as demand soars.
Those working in the communications sector will already be familiar with the need for the right PPE, such as dust masks, gloves and eye shields, but with new protocols being put in place for work both in the office and in the field, it's clear that more will be needed.
The equipment businesses need
Equipment will be especially important for communications engineers working in people's homes or public locations. While many companies have restricted operations such as home visits to only essential installations and repairs, those that are working will have a longer list than usual of essential equipment.
A top priority will of course be face masks and gloves. And with the UK government now recommending the use of face coverings in some public settings and enclosed spaces, demand is only likely to increase as the lockdown ends.
While simple cloth coverings will be the bare minimum, masks that offer FFP2 or even FFP3 protection will give more reassurance to employees and the public - where such coverings aren't in greater need for healthcare staff, of course.
Elsewhere, ensuring adequate supplies of sanitising gels will also be important, as employees can expect to go through large amounts of this, while tools like thermometers will also be vital in ensuring employees are healthy and able to be at work. But with demand high, being able to turn to the right suppliers that can ensure supplies quickly and safely will be a must.
Ensuring your PPE is up to standard
Even if you are able to secure the right items to protect your workforce, can you be certain that it meets all the relevant safety standards to actually provide the level of protection you need?
This is something that even the government has had trouble with, as the saga over 400,000 medical gowns imported from Turkey illustrated. After a delay of several days before arriving in the UK, it was eventually revealed none of them met UK standards, so they were left to gather dust in a warehouse.
For businesses, separating the quality items from those that aren't good enough can be tricky. While there are standards that all PPE must meet, many imported items lack the correct EU certification - or even worse, in some cases, have false documentations.
For example, FFP2 and FFP3 protective masks are category III PPE under EU regulations, which means they must be assessed by a notified body, which results in a CE marking with the number of the notified body. The manufacturer is also obliged to issue an EU Declaration of Conformity that must accompany the PPE, together with the instructions for use.
However, several of these certifications and declarations of conformity have been found to be falsified - either deliberately or inadvertently.
The right certifications
The European Safety Federation (ESF) is one body that has warned about the proliferation of these uncertified and fraudulent items, highlighting several certifications from locations such as China, Hong Kong and India. Some of these may be genuine, but do not meet EU standards, while others are falsified altogether, and it can be very difficult to determine which are real.
"We have the impression that manufacturers outside the EU (and probably even 'newcomers' and importers in the EU) are not entirely familiar with the EU legislation on PPE and thus believe that by paying the 'certificate' from such an organisation, they are fully in compliance with the EU legislation," the organisation said.
It added that it is also likely that on the side of the customers, knowledge about the exact requirements of the EU legislation is lacking, which means they accept the documentation as accurate.
With PPE set to be essential equipment for the foreseeable future, having faith that it will provide the protection it promises is a must if work is to be completed. Therefore, it's vital for businesses to turn to trusted suppliers for their PPE who can determine the veracity of essential certifications.