Do you trust your equipment quality?

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Do you trust your equipment quality?

Personal protective equipment used to be purchased directly from either the manufacturer or specialty stores but is now widely available on the Internet from unknown sources. There is a wide range of products available now but how do you know the quality of what you are buying? The products might look the same as well known name brand products but are they? There are a few major problems we have found with equipment available online with the most common being imitations of well known products and products which have questionable or fraudulent certifications.

Carabiners purchased from an online shopping website. No documentation or manufacturer information was included.

Imitation Products

Imitation products are designed to function similar to products from well established known brands. These products are often so similar that they can not be easily distinguished from the original product. Although they appear the same as the original product, there is no way to know if there were shortcuts taken in the manufacturing process which compromises the products safety and functionality. If a user is injured while using a genuine product, the manufacturer is liable. Known manufacturers have both civil and criminal liability concerns. In the case of an unauthorized copy, there is usually no way to identify the manufacturer. The liability falls solely on the user.

How does a user know a product is real or a copy? Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more difficult to determine. In many cases the only way to know is to ask the manufacturer or local distributor directly. With any life safety product, it is best to be sure of the supply chain. Was the product bought from an authorized dealer or distributor? If a product is bought from a source authorized by the manufacturer the chance of obtaining a counterfeit product is greatly reduced. Purchasing from an authorized source also allows the user to work directly with the manufacturer in order to resolve any issues.

A large percentage of the cost of products comes from the certification process to meet appropriate standards. This not only guarantees the quality of the product but also that the product will perform as designed. Similar to fake ‘replica’ products, often the certification marks on products are also fraudulent. How can fake certification marks be determined?

Product documentation not only includes instructions on correct use of the product but also contact information for the manufacturer.

Verifying certifications

For life safety equipment, the certification marks create an audit trail. The organization performing the certification can be contacted to inquire if they have records showing that the appropriate testing was performed.

Manufacturers of Life Safety Equipment use third party labs to ensure quality. Equipment marked as tested by both Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) can be looked up online through their websites. While this does not guarantee that the product is genuine, if a brand is not listed, it is a very strong warning sign that the equipment is suspect.

CE Marking

CE is an abbreviation of the French term “Conformite Europeene” or European Conformity. CE marking indicates that a product conforms with the Directive on Personal Protective Equipment for products sold in the European Economic Area (EEA). The number listed after a CE marking is the Notified Body, an organization authorized to perform product conformity testing for products to be sold in the European Union. The Notified Body is an independent third-party which does both initial and random testing to ensure standard conformity. If there is a question about the legitimacy of a product or manufacturer, the appropriate Notified Body can be contacted to inquire if they have testing records.

A product that is marked ‘CE’ must include a Notified Body number stamped either on the product or listed in the accompanying documentation. If this number is not present, this is another warning sign that the equipment might not have been properly tested. There is no way to verify the product meets the standard stamped on the product or in the documentation.

If a life safety product does not contain a CE marking, it can not be sold or used within the European Union. The European Union is a huge market for personal protective equipment and life safety equipment being sold internationally not having this certification should be cause for concern.

Declaration of Conformity

European Union PPE Regulation (EU) 2016/425 requires a Declaration of Conformity for all life safety products sold within the European Union. This Declaration of Conformity lists the name of the manufacturer and contact information, the product, the appropriate standards, and the Notified Body which performed testing. This document must be included with all CE marked life safety products. If there are questions about the authenticity of the equipment, this document provides appropriate contact information to investigate it’s origin. This Declaration of Conformity must be included with the product.

A swivel purchased from an online shopping website. No documentation was included and the manufacturer can not be verified. There is no way to know if the equipment actually meets the standard marked on it.

If it is CE/EN marked is it a good product?

EN standards specify design requirements and testing methods. In order to be compliant with the certification, the equipment must be used according to its intended use. Not all personal protective equipment has a specific testing standard. Instead it is tested according to a standard which most closely represents its method of use. This can cause problems for some equipment such as swivels which do not have their own standard. Instead they are tested according to the EN 354 (Personal fall protection equipment, Lanyards) standard. The swivel’s function is not tested according to this standard, only it’s breaking strength (15kN). How does a user know the swivel will perform properly? The guarantee depends greatly on the reputation of the manufacturer. Is the manufacturer known for producing quality products and following appropriate manufacturing standards?

I don’t live in the European Union. Why should I care?

The failure of Life Safety Equipment can lead to serious injury or death. Understanding the certification marks on equipment and recognizing when there is a problem gives warnings of other potential problems. If a manufacturer places fraudulent markings on equipment there should be other concerns about the quality of the equipment.

There are legal procedures available in western countries to ensure the quality of equipment and establish liability. In much of the developing world these procedures do not exist. It is up to the user to determine if equipment is safe. Even a user is not required to follow regulations, using these regulations as a guideline and examining the documents produced helps keep everyone safe.

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