Channel 4 Exposé on Substandard PPE “the Tip of the Iceberg”, says Safety Body

A new Channel 4 documentary, The Truth about Temu, that revealed that safety products for sale on the Temu app had fake safety certificates and were unfit for purpose is part of a much larger problem of substandard Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) flooding the UK market, according to the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF). 

In the Dispatches documentary, reporter Ellie Flynn reveals that some equipment advertised on the platform — which surpassed 46 million downloads in April 2024, making it more popular than Amazon’s marketplace app — doesn’t perform as advertised and falsely claims to have safety certifications from reputable organisations.

One notable instance involved two pairs of pliers, being sold as having electrical insulation properties, that were advertised as being certified by VDE, an established electrical product tester and certifier. However, VDE’s Hendrick Schäfer confirmed that these tools had not been certified by the institute. Flynn discovered that the product listings featured altered photos of genuine safety certificates, with the name of the Temu merchant superimposed over the original certificate holder’s name. Schäfer explained that if the certification is not correct: “The insulation of these handheld tools is maybe not properly done and the result could be an electric shock and in the worst case, electric shock could lead to death.”

The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) has long warned about the widespread availability of substandard PPE and safety equipment offered for sale in the UK and the serious threat this poses to users. The BSIF’s own investigations, spanning from December 2022 to December 2023, found that a staggering 79% of PPE items sourced from non-member companies from a range of vendors including online marketplace and high street retailers failed to meet basic safety standards.

Examples of these failures are alarming. A flame-retardant parka purchased from an online retailer failed flame spread testing, burning through its outer layer and igniting the inner layer. Additionally, safety glasses from a high street retailer failed impact resistance tests and lacked essential safety documentation. Despite the retailer’s assurances that this would be addressed, these glasses remained on sale for over two months after the failure was identified.

In response to the certification issues raised by Flynn, Temu told Dispatches: “We do not allow forgeries and will take action against any sellers involved if such cases are found.”

These issues underline the critical importance of sourcing PPE from verified and competent suppliers. The BSIF advocates for the use of their Registered Safety Supplier Scheme, which ensures that products are fit for purpose and meet regulatory standards. This scheme has a compliance rate of 91% during BSIF testing, with any shortcomings swiftly rectified.

“Unfortunately, the findings of the Channel 4 investigation are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the availability of substandard safety products in the UK,” says BSIF CEO Alan Murray. “A growing body of evidence shows there is an alarming volume of substandard PPE and safety products for sale and to the untrained eye it can be difficult to tell one from another. We encourage anyone buying safety products to look for the BSIF Shield for reassurance that your supplier is committed to only providing products that are fit for purpose.”

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