Counterfeiters have long been making a living off of fake sports jerseys, designer purses, and believe it or not, safety equipment. Unlike a purse or jersey, a safety product made with lower standards can be the difference between life or death. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety-rated products are made with one goal in mind: to protect people from hazards they encounter while working. When corners are cut, safety standards compromised, and a company, unwittingly or not, purchases a counterfeit item, the safety of their workers takes a major downfall.
Fake Certificates and Uninformed Customers
A counterfeit piece of equipment is falsely marketed and sold as a product that meets certain testing and safety standards. In reality, it's not certified and may not be capable of protecting to the extent the certification validates. Counterfeit goods often bear the mark of certification logos to falsely indicate these standards to bypass U.S. Customs and confuse uninformed or bargain-hunting customers.
A common example is the Chinese exportation of electronics bearing a fake UL logo, such as extension cords or electrical tools. The Underwriters Laboratories mark has long been a safety standard that identifies products that have been tested and are safe to use. Without this logo, sub-par and unsafe equipment manufacturers have trouble importing and selling in the U.S.
Another instance is the presence of counterfeit and altered respirators that claim to be NIOSH-certified. NIOSH-certified respirators are a vital part of protecting against occupational respiratory disease and any other hazards that may be present in the air. Using a respirator without the right rating level, a fake rating, or fitted with aftermarket parts is detrimental to worker safety.
The Danger of Counterfeits
In almost all cases of counterfeit goods, there are corners cut and safety standards overlooked to be able to sell at a cheaper price.
Lack of testing
A counterfeit item doesn't have to go through the stringent safety testing and manufacturing standards that a certificate proves. For example,
- Chemical agent permeation and penetration
- Canister gas and vapor
- Tests to ensure the device can fit on a wide range of different types of faces (NIOSH 2013)
Aftermarket pieces aren't a solution
Even if an original piece of equipment is tested and certified, one runs the risk of undermining safety features when outfitting that device with aftermarket and
Know What to Look For
Even if you're not in charge of procurement, you're still responsible for your
Purchase from manufacturers or authorized resellers
Counterfeiters are known to claim to be an authorized reseller or illegally represent themselves as a well known brand. Use good judgment when shopping online; if there are frequent misspellings or incoherent sentences in product descriptions, that should raise a warning flag.
Many larger companies have a list of their authorized sellers and distributors available on their website. If you have any doubt about a product, contact the manufacturer directly. Better yet, establish a relationship with an established safety supplier who researches and confirms the validity of all the products they sell.
ORR Safety has provided organizations with safety equipment and services since 1948.
Bargains are often too good to be true
If something is significantly cheaper than any other similar product, be extremely cautious. Safety rated equipment costs more because it undergoes stringent testing to verify it will protect. Extreme pricing undercuts should be approached with caution.
Inspect certification marks and product packaging
Certified equipment will be properly marked per the issuing party's guidelines. A NIOSH-certified respirator will have six different markings on its packaging, a print insert, or on the product itself (OSHA).
Inspect the product's packaging for lackluster finish, misspellings, missing information, or anything sloppy or unorganized.
Image Source: The Counterfeit Report
Match products to online certification listings
Reconditioned equipment is susceptible
Unapproved parts can often be found in reconditioned equipment. A NIOSH certification only applies to the product that was originally tested and is voided with any changes. As OSHA states, "even the slightest modification to a certified respirator may affect its fit, form or function" (OSHA).
What to do if you have a counterfeit product
If you believe you possess or know of a counterfeit safety product, immediately stop use of it in your facility. Seek out verified alternatives to continue normal operations, and report the suspected product to the proper authorities.
To report an unsafe product, file a report with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. If the product is imitating a certain brand, notify that company to make them aware.
Avoiding counterfeit safety equipment is a crucial, yet small part of an overall worker safety program. ORR Safety has a vast amount of experience in supplying companies with the products they need to keep their workers safe, as well as working to develop and implement OSHA-compliant safety programs for all industries. To explore a corporate relationship with ORR Safety, click the button below and start a conversation.
NIOSH (2013) What’s special about Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) powered air‐purifying respirators (PAPR)? Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2013-156/pdfs/2013-156.pdf
NIOSH (2016) Use of Aftermarket Replacement Component Parts for NIOSH-Approved Respirators. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2016-107/default.html
OSHA. Counterfeit & Altered Respirators: The Importance of Checking for NIOSH Certification. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/video/respiratory_protection/niosh_transcript.html