Face masks - clear guidance is required on the wearing of masks says Alan Kelly
New guidelines have been published by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) to assist businesses to place safe and compliant consumer face masks on the market.
Prior to and especially since the Government announcement on May 15, recommending that citizens wear a cloth face covering in situations where it is difficult to practise social distancing, there has been a significant increase in the production, importation and selling of face masks which are intended for consumer use.
The CCPC is the competent authority for product safety legislation in relation to both Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and non-PPE masks – known as barrier masks - which are sold to consumers.
Isolde Goggin, Chair of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission said; “In recent weeks, the CCPC has received a large number of requests from importers and businesses querying what regulatory requirements apply to the various forms of masks currently in use. In response we have produced guidance which explains the differences between the various mask types and the associated regulatory requirements within the CCPC’s remit. It is important that businesses understand that these products have fundamentally different intended purposes and are therefore regulated under different product safety regimes and agencies in Ireland. Our intention in producing these guidelines is to assist businesses to quickly respond to the current situation whilst ensuring that the products they place on the market in Ireland are safe.”
There are three main types of masks in use currently; medical/surgical, PPE and barrier face masks. Current Government advice is that wearing a cloth face covering in public may reduce the spread of Covid-19 in the community. PPE face masks and medical/surgical face masks are of a higher regulatory standard and Government has requested that PPE masks and medical/surgical masks be reserved for use in healthcare settings at this time.
Notwithstanding this, producers of barrier masks must ensure that their masks are safe and compliant before selling them to consumers. In Ireland, the National Standards Authority of Ireland’s SWIFT 19 Specification sets out the minimum requirements for the design, manufacture, performance, packaging, marking and information for use, for barrier masks intended for single use or reusable use by consumers. It can be used by a producer of barrier masks to enable them to demonstrate conformity with the regulatory requirements. Furthermore, producers should all be aware that barrier masks should not be sold as either personal protective equipment or medical devices. Barrier Masks’ packaging, labelling or advertising must not contain claims that they protect, or are intended to protect, the wearer from viruses such as Covid-19. Such claims could mislead consumers and be considered offences under consumer protection and product safety law.
Speaking about the obligation on businesses Ms Goggin said; “Different masks serve different functions and it is essential that products are safe and consumers are provided with accurate and complete information so that they can make an informed decision. Any manufacturer or importer of barrier masks should take heed of the guidance we have produced to ensure that their products do not pose a threat to consumers.
"Retailers and those businesses who sell masks to consumers also have legal obligations under consumer protection law. Businesses must always provide accurate and complete information about the products they sell. Businesses should be aware that providing false information about a product is a misleading commercial practice under consumer protection law and the CCPC has statutory powers to investigate and if necessary take enforcement action to address these practices. We encourage any consumer who believes that they may have been misled by business or provided with an unsafe product to contact us by visiting ccpc.ie. We will take action where we see businesses not complying with legislation.”