KANBrief 4/13

Responding to new products and requirements: a challenge for the standardization of PPE

At many workplaces, personal protective equipment (PPE) is an essential element in measures for the assurance of worker safety and health. The use of personal protective equipment for this purpose depends in particular upon the conditions under which it is used at the workplace and the hazards that are presented there. These aspects must also be considered in standards.

The Expert Committee Personal Protective Equipment of the DGUV and its 11 subcommittees advise and support the individual German Social Accident Insurance Institutions, state bodies, companies, insured individuals, manufacturers, and other stakeholders across all sectors with regard to personal protective equipment, and draw up rules and guidelines for its proper use.

Members of the expert committee and in particular the experts on the subcommittees are in close contact with manufacturers and users, for example through workplace inspections, accident investigations, and joint committee and project work. They observe the market for PPE, and evaluate personal protective equipment with regard to the requirements resulting from the actual working conditions. With their findings, they play an active role in national, European and international standardization of personal protective equipment, and make an indispensable contribution to the definition of product requirements and test methods, thereby assuring that suitable PPE is available for different work situations.

In the case of generic issues or particular difficulties in the standardization process, for example when formal objections are presented against standards, the head of the expert committee and the secretariat assume a co-ordinating function within the accident insurance institutions.

Standardization must improve what already exists, and address what is new

Since the New Approach was adopted, over 350 European product standards have been developed governing personal protective equipment used at the workplace and by private individuals, in support of the 89/686/EEC PPE Directive. The standardization process cannot however be regarded as complete.

Firstly, the existing standards do not always cover all the essential health and safety requirements of the directive. Owing to the current discussions with the European Commission concerning the content of the respective Annex ZA and the completeness of the presumption of conformity, pressure is growing for the
PPE standards to be continually improved. In the view of the Expert Committee Personal Protective Equipment, the objective should be for all essential health and safety requirements for a product to be addressed if at all possible in a single standard. The ergonomic design, combination of items of PPE and their mutual influence when used simultaneously are topics to which particular attention is paid.

At the same time, changes in the working environment and technical developments result in new types of products, new combinations of PPE and products with new functions appearing on the market. Standardization must take these products into account. In the area of protective clothing for example, the standards organizations CEN and CENELEC are currently analysing the need for new standards to be developed, in response to a mandate issued by the European Commission (M/509 Programming mandate to CEN, CENELEC and ETSI on protective textiles and personal protective clothing and equipment (pdf)). In the subsequent stage, the analysis is to serve as the basis for the formulation of specific standardization mandates, for example for intelligent PPE with built-in electronic
functionality and for PPE as an integral protective system. This also presents an opportunity for greater attention to be paid in the product standards to further aspects such as ergonomics, sustainability, mental stresses and energy efficiency.

The experts of the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions must clearly be involved on the standards committees, not least in order to observe the new developments. In order to assure this participation not only now, but also in the future, it may be necessary to consider new funding concepts, both for the participation of experts, and for the necessary studies into the suitability of products and the development of validated test methods.

Karl-Heinz Noetel
Head of the Expert Committee PPE of the DGUV

Petra Jackisch
Head of the secretariat of the Expert Committee PPE