Advice for businesses and individuals who want to make or distribute face coverings
Shropshire Council’s Trading Standards Service is highlighting important safety requirements that small and large businesses, organisations and individuals need to know if they want to manufacture or distribute face coverings.
We are all now required to wear face coverings on public transport or when attending a hospital as a visitor or outpatient. We are also encouraged to wear them in other enclosed public spaces where social distancing is not possible and where we will come into contact with people we do not normally meet.
But, what is the law surrounding the sale of these items, and how do they differ from face masks?
Face coverings are items that cover your mouth and nose whilst allowing you to breathe comfortably. They are an added precaution to reduce the likelihood of a person with coronavirus (but not displaying symptoms) from infecting another. They are not personal protective equipment (PPE) or medical devices and should not be sold or donated as such. Face coverings should only be sold for private use. They cannot be sold to businesses (unless for resale) and any labelling should not make reference to work use.
The manufacture and sale of face coverings is governed by the General Product Safety Regulations (GPSR). These regulations ensure that all products are safe products. To this end, the regulations place duties on producers and distributors to ensure the safety of the product. In relation to face coverings, the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) has issued guidance for manufacturers and makers of face coverings.
Face masks are either PPE or medical devices, depending on the level of protection that they offer. They are stringently controlled, although the government has reduced some administrative requirements on businesses looking to supply PPE. PPE would still be required to undergo conformity assessment by a notified body. Some products may be both PPE and medical devices and these products must comply with both sets of requirements. Further information on PPE and medical devices can be accessed using the links.
Non-compliant PPE can be sold as face coverings if it can be demonstrated that it complies with GPSR. Any indication that the product was designed as PPE (for example, a CE mark) must be removed and the business reworking the product would become a producer for the purposes of GPSR. Further guidance on GPSR can be found on Business Companion.
Frances Darling, Shropshire Council’s trading standards and licensing operations manager, said:
The recent changes in the law and guidance around the new protective measures that we are now required and encouraged to take to further reduce the spread of COVID-19 means there will clearly be an increase in demand for face coverings. Inevitably, there will be those who seek to exploit the COVID-19 crisis for their own financial gain by producing and supplying non-compliant, inferior and unsafe products.
“It is crucial that face coverings meet safety standards and if anyone is worried that items they have purchased may not be compliant, they should report their concerns to the Citizens Advice consumer helpline.
“Businesses, organisations and individuals who want to manufacture or distribute face coverings for use by the public must ensure they comply with relevant safety requirements. I strongly urge anyone who is considering making face coverings to read the nationally-available guidance and, if they are at all unsure as to the requirements, they should seek further advice from the Trading Standards Service.
Gwilym Butler Portfolio Holder for Communities, Place Planning and Regulatory Services said:
We understand that there are many volunteers out there doing a great deal of good work in our communities to support the vulnerable through the COVID-19 crisis, including making face coverings to donate to charities or to provide them to people who are unable to access or afford face coverings or masks themselves; however, we do have a responsibility to ensure businesses, organisations and individuals who are producing and distributing face coverings, PPE and medical devices do so legally and responsibly in order to help us protect the health and safety of the public and employees.
“We have highly knowledgeable and skilled Trading Standards staff who can provide specialist advice in relation to face coverings and can also assist businesses to access the right information from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in respect of the manufacture and distribution of PPE and medical devices. If you need to speak to Trading Standards, please do get in touch. They are here to help.
Further advice can be sought from the Council’s Trading Standards Service by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 0345 678 9067 (select option 3).
Concerns about potentially non-compliant or unsafe products should be reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133.