Covid-19: A challenge to protective clothing manufacturers!

Clearing up the mis-understandings over the standard for protection against infectious pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2

For Lakeland, as a major manufacturer of clothing often in demand for the most critical front-line protection this ongoing pandemic highlights two major confusions over the critical EN 14126 CE standard. To help address this confusion we have developed a new labelling system for certified garments that will make the information needed from testing within the standard easily accessible to users, and result in clearer understanding of whether a specific garment is suitable for a particular application.

Our challenge to all our competitors making similar protective clothing is this:-

“For the benefit of users adapt and copy and this labelling system on your own garments and make this a universal change”

What are the two confusions over this standard?

  1. Failure to consider individual testing in the standard

The fact is, just confirming PPE is certified to a standard does not mean it is suitable for your specific application for two reasons:-

  • Standards commonly contain a range of optional tests relating to specific types or levels of protection for different applications within the protection group. So PPE might be certified to the standard – but could be entirely useless for your particular application if it is not tested appropriately. There are multiple real-world examples of the consequences of misunderstanding standards.
  • CE Standards define minimum performance requirements. Many applications require more than the minimum.  So just because PPE is certified does not mean it is safe to use; your application might need much more than the minimum performance. Unless you look at the detail within a standard you may not achieve the protection you need

EN 14126 is just such a standard. It includes four different tests measuring the resistance of the garment fabric against penetration  by pathogens in different formats; contaminated aerosols, liquids under pressure, surfaces and dust particles. These tests are listed in Table 1.

(Table 1: Note the table lists five tests – but the first is merely a precursor test for the second and should not be used – see below)

Which test is applicable to your application?

Whilst defining these tests the standard does not require that all must be conducted. A garment can be certified with testing to only one. So as a user selecting a garment, unless you check which tests have been conducted you have no idea if it is suitable for your particular application. You might need a garment in a situation where the hazard is contact with contaminated dusts, but if the garment is only tested to the aerosol spray test it could be useless.

Furthermore, the results for each test are classified as 1 to 3 or 1 to 6 (depending on the test), with the highest number representing the highest level of protection. So, in addition to checking that a garment has been tested appropriately you also need to check if the level of protection defined by the classification is high enough for your needs.

Failing to check either the test(s) conducted or the classification(s) achieved – or worse, both – could mean that even though you have a certified garment it could entirely fail to protect you!

2. A Common mis-use of the EN 14126 test information

The second major misunderstanding with this standard is the common use of the first test listed (ISO 16603) as part of certification or as an indication of some level of protection (and often as an alternative to testing to the second test, ISO 16604). This is simply wrong.

The standard is clear on this. ISO 16603 is included purely as a precursor to the ISO 16604 test. ISO 16604 measures resistance to contaminated liquids (such as body fluids) under pressure; the higher the classifiction, the higher the pressure at which penetration is resisted. Because it is a time-consuming and expensive test using areal bacteriophage, with a culture grown to identify penetration, in order to reduce the time and cost, ISO 16603, a simpler test using synthetic blood and only a visual analysis is included as a method of identifying a “starting point” – a pressure at which “strikethrough” is likely to occur.

The standard states this is the only purpose for ISO 16603 and that the classifications given apply only to ISO 16604. And yet some manufacturers and users continue to specify a classification for ISO 16603 as part of the suit’s performance or as part of a specification.

This could be dangerous; commonly a fabric that performs very poorly in 16604 will achieve an apparently better result in 16603 – which entirely proves the point that the tests are substantially different. Use of ISO 16603 can give a false impression of the level of protection offered by a suit. Users of such garments may be using a garment with a much lower level of protection than they think!

How are Lakeland aiming to address these problems and clear up the confusion?

A new system of labelling (adapted from labelling of EN 11612 FR workwear) has already been introduced on Lakeland garments and will be seen in the market shortly. It identifyies each of the four tests with the letters A to D, adding these, along with the relevant numbers for classifications achieved, to the pictogram used to indicate EN 14126 certification. Examples of the old and new labelling are shown below.

The effect is to highlight the test information clearly on the label making it easy for users to identify and encouraging its use as part of a selection or specification process. On Lakeland garments it is even more prominent than most because all the CE labelling requirements are on the chest label – easily visible to wearers and anyone else.

A Challenge for the Industry

Whilst we have proposed that this change should be included in the next revision of the standard, this could take years – if accepted at all. However, as it seems such a logical step forward and can only be a benefit to users, our challenge is to all manufacturers of EN 14126 garments:- introduce this labelling system on your garments in order to help address the confusion over this standard and make the vital detail of the testing within it – and the correct tests at that – more easily accessible to users.

There really is no reason not to…

You can read in more detail about the new labelling system for EN 14126 garments already being rolled out on all Lakeland protective clothing in our blog.

This misuse of the EN 14126 standard is just one of many in the safety industry. The PPE world is replete with misunderstandings, misinterpretations and myths relating to protection, standards and safety products. Last year we produced an ebook discussing “Ten PPE Myths” outlining ten important examples. This proved so popular we have now published “Ten More PPE Myths” which looks at another collection of examples – along with myth-busting recommendations. You can download it for free from the link below.

Rebecca Lambert
Author: Rebecca Lambert



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