Ensuring that employees are safe at work must be a high priority for all organizations, regardless of industry. Whilst this can have a considerable impact on businesses, ultimately organizations have a responsibility to look after their people. Joseph Neilson, Certification Manager for PPE at BSI, explores PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and how to prevent footwear injuries in the workplace.

Most incidents in the workplace can be prevented if the correct level of protection is provided. Protective footwear is just one of the most common types of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and an important part of self-protection in the workplace. Footwear incidents can range from a blister due to ill-fitting work boots, to heavy objects falling onto the feet. Keeping feet at the right temperature is another consideration, particularly in extreme environments or when working outdoors. There is an ever-rising need for organizations to comply with health and safety regulations; therefore, professionals need to explore the use of PPE. However, with so many different types of protective footwear on the market – each with its own use and application, how do organizations invest in the right protection? 

What is PPE?

PPE encompasses hundreds of products that stretch from head to toe, from protective clothing, helmets, hearing and respiratory protection to body armour and boots. From a legal and regulatory perspective, PPE is defined more specifically as:

  • 1.  Equipment designed and manufactured to be worn or held by a person for protection against one or more risks to that person’s health or safety.
  • 2.  Interchangeable components for equipment referred to in point (a) that are essential for its protective function.
  • 3.  Connection systems for equipment referred to in point (a) that are not held or worn by a person, that are designed to connect that equipment to an external device or to a reliable anchorage point, that are not designed to be permanently fixed, and that do not require fastening works before use.

To keep employees safe in the workplace and reduce health risks, protective footwear has to comply with all the requirements of the PPE Regulation and carry the CE marking to be sold legally in the EU.

“harmonized Standards are listed in the Official Journal which is held on the European Commission website”

Some types of footwear are classified as Complex PPE, this means that in addition to satisfying the initial requirements of the PPE Directive, the manufacturer must also demonstrate annually to a Notified Body such as BSI, that the product continues to comply with the requirements of the standard it was initially tested against. A notified body is an independent organization designated by an EU country to assess the conformity of certain products before being placed on the market. These bodies carry out tasks related to conformity assessment procedures set out in the applicable EU legislation, when a third party is required.

What is the PPE Regulation?

The PPE Regulation (EU) 2016/425 recently superseded the PPE Directive, which was revised in order to reflect current technologies and processes for developing and bringing PPE to the market. The regulation replaced the PPE Directive on 12 February 2016 and was published in a document called the Official Journal. The new regulation applied from 21 April 2018. All PPE manufactured now will need to comply with the latest Regulation.

To ensure footwear is fully compliant, products have to be certified to the requirements of the Regulation. This can be done through testing the product to a published harmonized standard or to a manufacturer’s own technical specification. Harmonized Standards are listed in the Official Journal which is held on the European Commission website and is a ‘live document’ therefore updated on a regular basis.

What foot protection should you invest in?

There are many different types of protective footwear on the market – each with its own use and specific application. The PPE Regulation groups all products into three main categories (Simple, Intermediate and Complex) – depending on the level of risk in the workplace.

Category 1: Simple

Minimal risks are present and employees can identify and assess the level of protection that the product offers. Such risks might include superficial mechanical injury, contact with hot surfaces not exceeding 50°C and atmospheric conditions that are not of an extreme nature. In order to fall into this category, products must comply with the Essential Health and Safety requirements and bear the CE marking.

Category 2: Intermediate

Neither complex nor simple, products in this category should be certified by a Notified Body, to prove that they meet the technical requirements of the PPE Regulation’s relevant specifications.

Category 3: Complex

PPE in this category is designed to protect workers against dangers that could cause serious harm to their health and in some instances, death. These products safeguard employees against electrical risks, dangerous voltages and provide insulation during high-tension work. To meet the requirements of this category, manufacturers not only need to get their products certified by an accredited body, but also undergo constant surveillance. Their chosen accredited body will select and test samples to ensure all products meet the required standards or audit their factory production systems to ensure the conformity of the product is maintained.

Introducing UKCA

Now that we have officially left the EU the UKCA mark is needed when placing regulated products on the market in England, Scotland and Wales with the UKCA replacing CE marking in the Great Britain (GB) countries. CE marking will continue to be recognized for products being placed on the GB market that have been certified by an EU notified body until the end of December.

“from Jan 1st 2022 CE certificates are no longer valid in the UK”

UCKA Certification needs to be issued by December 31st 2021, as from Jan 1st 2022 CE certificates are no longer valid in the UK.

BSI was informed by the Department for Business, energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) that it is an approved body for the UKCA marking and can work with organizations on the required conformity assessment procedures that allow them to affix the UKCA marking on to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including Safety Footwear.

All safety footwear must be tested to the latest versions of relevant standards, such as EN ISO 20345 and EN ISO 20347, a list of up to date UK Designated standards is available on the UK government website.

Is your protection up to standard?

Specifiers and purchasers of PPE can derive a measure of reassurance about the quality and safety of products from the presence of the ‘CE’ or UKCA marking.

If a product bears the CE or UKCA marking, it has been assessed against the essential safety performance criteria as specified in the EU/UK Regulation. This mark also acts as the manufacturer’s confirmation that the product adheres to the specific requirements of all the Directives that apply to it and that it can be sold legally in the UK. 

Previously the PPE Directive focused only on manufacturers placing products onto the market, but the new regulation means the whole supply chain is involved. This means importers, distributors or anyone involved in the supply and distribution chain should take appropriate measures to ensure that PPE meets standard requirements and that they make available on the market only products which comply with the Regulation, and keep relevant documents for at least 10 years.

BSI’s status as a Notified Body for many European Directives and Regulations enables it to offer third party testing and factory production control assessments, where products require it, and can offer support for PPE manufacturers wishing to CE mark their products. The level of involvement of BSI is determined by the Category the product falls under in the Regulation.

Footwear standards used in CE and UKCA marking

  • EN 13634:2017 Protective footwear for motorcycle riders – Requirements and test methods
  • EN 13832-2:2006 Footwear protecting against chemicals – Part 2: Requirements for footwear resistant to chemicals under laboratory conditions
  • EN 13832-3:2006 Footwear protecting against chemicals – Part 3: Requirements for footwear highly resistant to chemicals under laboratory conditions
  • EN 15090:2012 Footwear for firefighters
  • EN ISO 17249:2013 Safety footwear with resistance to chain saw cutting
  • EN ISO 20345:2011 Personal protective equipment – Safety footwear
  • EN ISO 20346:2014 Personal protective equipment – Protective footwear
  • EN ISO 20347:2012 Personal protective equipment – Occupational footwear
  • EN 50321-1:2018 Live working – Footwear for electrical protection – Insulating footwear and overboots

EN ISO 20345 and EN ISO 20347 are currently due to be replaced by an up to date version of the standard (Currently in Draft for Public Comment). Some of the proposed changes to the standards are:

  • Heel area defined
  • Revised Slip Resistance requirements, introducing ‘SR’
  • Seam Strength requirement for hybrid footwear added
  • Insole abrasion revised
  • Outsole requirements revised
  • Outsole thickness revised
  • Optional metatarsal requirement revised
  • Optional scuff caps ‘SC’ added
  • Optional ladder grip of outsole ‘LG’ added
  • Requirement for electrically insulating footwear removed

The cost of counterfeits

There are some excellent footwear protection products available on the market, however there are also numerous counterfeit and illegal products. Invariably, such fakes do not perform as they should, put employees’ lives at risk and expose their organization to prosecution.

From laboratory and to factory floor, PPE is vital to workplace wellbeing and it is imperative that it meets or exceeds health and safety standards. The new Regulation will help prevent companies from selling sub-standard PPE without being accountable. Under the new Regulation, any company importing or distributing PPE products will have to ensure they meet the Regulation and keep records.

Above and beyond

The BSI Kitemark™ gives a higher level of assurance that a product will do what it claims. From a buyer’s perspective, it helps differentiate well-made PPE products from those of a lower standard – or indeed counterfeit goods.

“fakes do not perform as they should, put employees’ lives at risk and expose their organization to prosecution”

Many manufacturers apply for Kitemark certification to make sure their products stand out from others. In order to achieve the Kitemark certification, a product must comply with the specified requirements of a publicly available standard, such as a British, European or International Standard, or PAS (Publically Available Specification).

If a product holds the Kitemark licence, it has been through a rigorous testing process to ensure it meets the relevant standards and passes all the applicable requirements. This also involves the assessment of the factory’s quality management system against the ISO 9001 requirements. Once a licence has been issued, the manufacturer’s factory will be audited on a regular basis and products will be tested frequently to make sure they still comply with the specified requirements. Both the audit testing and factory assessments are above the minimum requirements specified for the Intermediate & Complex category in the PPE Regulation.

“by understanding what PPE is available when it comes to foot protection, many incidents can be prevented”

Manufacturers that achieve the Kitemark certification demonstrate their on-going commitment to deliver foot protection of the highest standards to the market.

BSI has recently extended its Hemel Hempstead Centre of Excellence for protective equipment testing, with the opening of a Gas Capacity Laboratory capable of testing the effectiveness of filters used in Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE). This allows us to offer both RPE testing and gas capacity testing of filters against gases such as hydrogen cyanide and sulphur dioxide.

Keeping employees safe at work may seem complicated, however by understanding what PPE is available and what to look for when it comes to foot protection, many incidents can be prevented. Certification to key product standards through CE marking and the BSI Kitemark can help PPE manufacturers clear regulatory hurdles, while differentiating their proven products from poor quality competitors and fakes. Most importantly, however, it will give the peace of mind to consumers and commercial buyers that the quality, safety and reliability of PPE products is guaranteed.