Sourcing quality PPE for the post-COVID workplace

By Jiao Li, co-founder of At the start of the year, many of us had never heard of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). But, over the past few months, PPE has fast become a buzz word - especially now, with the easing of lockdown, as many employers and employees start to think about a return to the post-COVID workplace.

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The provision of “non-healthcare PPE” for staff – which includes face masks, visors, gloves and sanitiser gel - is essential for helping to stop the spread of coronavirus in your workplace. And, if proper quality products are used correctly, it can help to save lives.

Since early June, we have been receiving enquiries from some clients asking for advice and help with sourcing PPE as they started to think about reopening their businesses and protecting their workforce. As is a platform connecting business and service providers, we had also been wondering if we could put our platform technology to good use during these precedented times, by making the sourcing of vital, quality PPE easier and safer via our online marketplace – and so we conducted a survey with some of our clients and investors for their feedback about this offer. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the feedback we received was a resounding YES.

The survey also revealed that many businesses and employers had been buying online with absolutely no idea about what they were buying or, indeed, would receive in terms of quality or effectiveness. The sudden demand for PPE has spawned a host of opportunist companies producing cheap, low quality products which are really not worth the price you pay. And while it’s one thing managing to source non-healthcare PPE, it’s quite another thing managing to source quality products.

Another problem has been that many of the PPE products from China can only be sourced in large volumes.

Additionally, prices can vary enormously making it hard to benchmark. On Amazon, prices for facemasks vary from as little as 15p to as much as £6 a unit, depending on quality and type (N95 or disposable).

In accordance with the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulations (OPSS PPE Legislation Guidance for Businesses) V3 May 2020, it is important to source products which carry a genuine CE safety standard mark. And the only way to properly validate a CE mark is to request a Certificate of Conformity and/or a Declaration of Performance.

Many of these certificates have been issued after the pandemic started so our advice to buyers is to be especially careful that the certificates have been issued by a qualified body and aren’t fake. If necessary, do a deep dive into the person/organisation issuing the CE documentation to ensure they have the necessary criteria or credentials to issue the safety certification in the first place.

As of June 15, the government made it compulsory to wear face masks on public transport – and with the reopening of non-essential retail, it is recommended to wear a mask in an enclosed public space, including shops, although this s yet to be made compulsory.

Therefore, we are inviting businesses of any size to make use of our PPE offer on the Crayfish® online Marketplace. Businesses simply sign up and post their requirements through our platform, then wait for competitive bids and availability information from our trusted suppliers. Posting is free, and we have set the commission to 0% until September.

All our suppliers of PPE products and services have been carefully vetted to ensure quality and peace of mind for those purchasing. We stipulate that the products need to be competitively priced, stocked in the UK to avoid custom issues and resulting price hikes, carry the proper CE safety certification and are available to purchase in small quantities.

None of the products available via our suppliers were intended for medical use and, as such, have not been sourced at the expense of any medical practices.

For those businesses sourcing their PPE products from China directly, our qualified service providers can also help them with logistics and quality inspections.

To support UK SMEs, the commission-free use of our online marketplace also applies to the range of services we offer including English<>Asian translation, Chinese copywriting, website localisation, IP registration and due diligence

Throughout the lockdown period, we have continued to share our insights, the latest trends and best practices for successful cross border collaborations, as well as hosting and being actively involved in more than 20 informative online events.

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