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In 2009, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) requested that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) assess the certification methods needed to ensure the effectiveness of non-respirator personal protective technologies (PPT). The recommendation for NIOSH to certify PPT in addition to respirators, was made by the National Academies (NA) Evaluation of the PPT Program. The NA Committee recommended that NIOSH NPPTL "oversee all PPT certification in order to ensure a minimum uniform standard of protection and wearability."
The report released Nov. 11, 2010 states that recommendations are provided for NIOSH and "specifically NPPTL, as it is the only federal organization that is focused solely on PPT and therefore has a leadership role in addressing PPT issues." The report identified gaps and inconsistencies in the certification and other conformity assessment processes for non-respirator PPT and urged that this issue be explored further.
As Howard J. Cohen, chair of the Committee on the Certification of Personal Protective Technologies, explains in the report, "Conformity assessment is key to ensuring that the products we purchase are effective and perform to specifications; as users we are not expected to know or be engaged in the actual intricacies of how products are tested and verified to make sure that they meet performance requirements. This report focuses on conformity assessment for occupational personal protective technologies (PPT) ensuring that PPT are effective in preventing or reducing hazardous exposures or situations that workers face in their jobs. Because respirators already have an extensive testing and conformity assessment process in place, the charge to this committee was to address conformity assessment processes for other types of PPT, including eye and face protection, gloves, hearing protectors, and protective clothing."
Cohen adds, "As the committee surveyed the current state of conformity assessment for PPT products, it became evident that a number of varied approaches are currently in place with the involvement of multiple organizations and federal agencies. Processes differed in the rigor of the testing, the extent of independent third-party involvement in the process, requirements for quality manufacturing processes, and follow-up efforts to identify post-marketing concerns. The need for a greater emphasis on a consistent and risk-based approach to PPT conformity assessment was identified as a priority by the committee. In workplaces where there are greater risks to the health and safety of the worker if the PPT product does not perform effectively, increased levels of involvement and requirements for independent third-party testing and certification are deemed appropriate."
The report makes three recommendations:
1. Develop and Implement Risk-Based Conformity Assessment Processes for Non-Respirator PPT
2. Enhance Research, Standards Development, and Communication
3. Establish a PPT and Occupational Safety and Health Surveillance System
The report can be accessed, free of charge, from the National Academies Press at: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12962