Reusable personal protective equipment (PPE) and its use in the rescEU programme

Reusable personal protective equipment (PPE) and its use in the rescEU programme

Protective half-masks provide efficient protection for critical infrastructure (CI) and provide protection that is superior to FFP3 standards. They also have significant economic and environmental advantages, since they can be reused and have a long shelf life. Protective half-masks are used on daily basis by CI workers, such as firefighters and medical staff in Czechia. The product has also been successful in public tenders – for example, it was accepted by the Czech Ministry of Interior in tender N006/20/V00024638.

However, disposable PPE (mostly certified as European standard EN 149) are given priority in the rescEU programme, despite their lower efficiency. Currently, protective half-masks are included in rescEU, but only under specific circumstances. CI workers have requested reusable products, which are more efficient, although these products are generally excluded from the programme.

Regulation (EU) 2016/425 classifies the protective half-mask as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Therefore, the relevant harmonised standards for protective half-masks (i.e. those that adhere to EN 140 and EN 143 standards) should be included in rescEU and deemed to be at the same level as EN149. The current situation provides limited protection to CI throughout the EU.

In a question posed to the European Commission on 9 October 2020, Czech Member of the European Parliament Tomas Zdechovsky of the European People’s Party (PPE), asked the Commission is it aware of “how authorities treat standards for disposable and reusable PPE differently?” and “the added value that reusable PPE brings for public tenders focused on strategic stocks and reserves and on critical infrastructure?”

Finally, Parliamentarian Zdechovsky asked the Commission “is it considering making it easier for certified reusable PPE to be included in the rescEU programme (i.e. by recognising the individual category for reusable products)?”

MEP Zdechovsky’s question was responded to by the Commissioner Thierry Breton, responsible for the Internal Market. Breton’s response highlighted that “regulation 2016/425 lays down the essential health and safety requirements applicable to personal protective equipment (PPE) but does not prescribe any technical solutions” and added that “the regulation remains technologically neutral and does not favour some technical solutions (e.g. disposable ones) over others (e.g. reusable ones). EN149, EN140 and EN143 are all harmonised standards under Regulation 2016/425”.

Commissioner Breton further clarified that “the EN149 standard also allows for the manufacturing of reusable PPE” and “face pieces manufactured in accordance with EN149 are subdivided in 3 classes, similarly to filters manufactured in accordance with EN143”. He also explained that “the filtration efficiency of the respective different classes is comparable. In that sense, it cannot be affirmed, in a general manner, that PPE manufactured in accordance with EN149 ensures a lower level of protection”.

Commissioner Breton stated that “the Commission is not aware of any particular instance of barriers imposed by the national authorities to the placement on the market of re-usable PPE”. He further said that “regarding the comparison between the added value of re-usable PPE and single use PPE, such an assessment cannot be made in abstracto” and “the specific needs may be based on several factors such as the level of training of the intended users, the respective national medical protocols, the existence of processes and infrastructure for disinfection etc.” He also added that “in relation to the rescEU stockpiling mechanism, Member States interested in hosting a stockpile have received a list of categories of items to be potentially included in the stockpile”.

In closing, Commissioner Breton declared that “the list is neutral regarding the choice of respiratory protection, provided that the items are CE-marked and comply with the relevant World Health Organisation specifications”.

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