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The 7 Biggest Problems in the PPE Market in 2022

PPE, safety workwear, and protective equipment is the single biggest headache you have when it comes to buying. Between navigating legislation and industry jargon to managing an oversaturated market with little insight into which companies, brands and products you can rely on, the process of ordering PPE is anything but easy.

LION understand how overwhelming and downright stressful it can be to navigate the PPE market. With over 30 years of experience in supplying safety workwear, PPE and equipment, we know as well as anyone the problems people face every day when trying to buy. Let’s be honest, the PPE industry can be a tangled mess of products, suppliers and, more often than not, false promises. 

This article is for you and for anybody who is sick of the headache that is buying PPE. Why? Because when you’re aware of what the problems are, you can make more informed choices to mitigate them, and even avoid them altogether. 

Over the years, we’ve found that the key problem areas people face when buying PPE are:

Let’s take a deep dive into these issues.

PPE Problem 1: Too many opinions 

One of the biggest problems people face is other people. Seriously! 

When it comes to PPE, workwear and safety equipment, we’ve heard time and again that every staff member wants a slight variation. We often see different departments, all with different opinions on what their gear should look like, and it results in stagnancy. Nothing gets ordered when Health and Safety managers are disagreeing with HR, who are having an all-out rubber-band-firing standoff with Procurement while they fire crumpled paper cannonballs at the PPE Working Group. And then the Unions get involved. It just doesn’t work.

This unnecessary discourse that happens throughout the company hierarchy about something as simple as choosing PPE and workwear is pointless and a huge waste of time. It often leads to companies being unable to make clear, user-informed decisions. This in turn leads to even more frustration when operational staff are unable to move forward without having agreed on a product. 

Solution: Ask your supplier to help guide you through the process of reviewing your PPE, safety workwear and equipment

Your supplier should be an expert in PPE, safety workwear and equipment. If they can’t help you cut through the noise, who can?

If you are struggling to co-ordinate the many opinions in your team and it is affecting your ability to select the right products, ask your supplier for help. As experts in their field and in the products they are supplying, they will be able to offer insight into what products would be the best fit for you and your employees. 

If you do need to engage your supplier in eary discussions due to differing opinions, it is a good idea to ensure that all decision-makers (regardless of opinion) are in the same meeting or on the same call as your supplier. That way, everybody gets a chance to have their questions answered, any concerns addressed and you can all move forward as a team. 

PPE Problem 2: Oversaturated Market 

Understatement of the century. The PPE market is so oversaturated it is practically oozing products; always churning out new variations, cheap copies and ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions. (Pro tip: stay away from anything that says ‘one-size-fits-all’, this is one of the biggest red flags out there. One-size-fits-all does not apply to PPE, safety workwear and equipment.)

With thousands of products out there and hundreds of suppliers trying to sell you variations of the same thing for different prices, it’s no wonder that this category is such a nightmare to buy from. Where do you even start? 

The risk here is that your workers end up with a kit that is not a good fit for them. This means that they might not wear it properly, or worse, at all. That can lead to a whole host of issues, like an increased risk of injury or death. And then come the lawsuits and compensation payouts due to non-compliance. 

Solution: Ask your supplier to work with you on finding the right products

Your supplier should be continually reviewing the market for the best possible products out there. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of options out there, give your supplier a call and ask them to talk you through what the best options are for your requirements. The key here is knowing your requirements inside out. If you can bring your specifications and requirements as decided by your risk assessments, your supplier has a spring-board into their pool of products and from there can dive with you into a narrowed down selection of products. 

PPE Problem 3: Late and Split Deliveries 

How many times have you been assured of a delivery date only for that date to keep getting further and further away? 

When you don’t get your kit on time, your workers can’t start their projects on time. Delays lead to moans and groans from both clients and workers. 

Lead times are one of the biggest complaints we get from prospects looking to work with us. Whether they’ve been let down by their current supplier or need products with a faster lead time than they currently have; this grumble is a common one. 

Often, suppliers promise product delivery times that they simply cannot guarantee. This can be for a multitude of reasons but is often because they don’t have the stock on their shelves, and are then at the mercy of their supplier’s lead times. 

Solution: Ask your supplier if they can hold stock for you to enable faster delivery

Many suppliers can offer various different stock holding agreements, be it branded or unbranded. Ask your supplier if this option is available to you. 

If your supplier can hold your stock on the shelf for you, they can get your deliveries out much faster than if they were to wait on their own suppliers for it. 

If stock availability is not the problem, and it is a delivery issue, speak to your supplier about using a different courier, or organising different delivery options for you. 

PPE Problem 4: Low Stock Availability 

Stock availability has become even more of a problem after Brexit and COVID. Suppliers with anything less than a watertight supply chain are being stung by long lead times, and delays at customs. The result is that you can’t get your staff kitted out in time to start their job. 

If your supplier can’t get stock what happens? Well, you either have to find a supplier that does have stock, which is a pain, or your supplier might substitute the product with one that they do have. The risk here is that they substitute the product with one that is not compliant or fit for purpose, meaning your staff are still at risk. 

Solution: Ask your supplier to hold stock for you

Similar to the above problem’s solution; if you are having problems with low stock availability it is worth asking your supplier about what stock holding options they have available for you. 

If your supplier can hold stock for you, you eradicate the bulk of the lead time issues that you are facing due to waiting for them to get the stock in for you.

If there is an issue with the stock itself, for example if stock for that particular item is low nationwide or of dwindling supply, you may need to discuss alternative options with your supplier. If this is the case, don’t wait for that item to become extinct: begging the transition to finding a different product as soon as you are aware there is a problem with supply.

PPE Problem 5: Bad Service

Bad service is never ok. There is nothing worse than trying to contact a supplier with an issue that needs resolving and playing a game of telephone instead. Getting passed around a customer service team, having your emails go ignored and waiting weeks to solve a problem are the worst.

When you are buying something as important as safety workwear, PPE and equipment, you want to know that the person on the end of the phone will have answers for you when you need them. 

Solution: Ask your supplier about their account management options

Lots of businesses offer a more personalised, account management service to key and strategic customers. If you do not already have a dedicated account manager, it is worth asking for one! Your account manager should be your first port of call in any instance and is the gatekeeper to any other people or departments you need to talk to. Having a personalised service here can help eradicate waiting days to hear back on an email ticket or having unresolved issues. 

If your supplier is unwilling to dedicate an account manager for your business, they may not have the capabilities to do so. Instead, you can talk to their customer service team about what additional help they can offer you.

Finally, if this is also not an option, it may be time to start researching new suppliers. Service is vital in this industry, and if after raising the issues, you find you are still getting bad service, there are many more suppliers out there who are happy to offer you account management and personalised service options.

PPE Problem 6: Subpar Products 

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: don’t buy cheap products just because they’re cheap; don’t buy products if you aren’t sure they are compliant; don’t buy from a company you do not trust. 

Getting subpar products puts not only your employees who will be wearing them at risk, but it puts you at risk. Should anything happen to an employee due to subpar equipment or workwear that is not compliant, the onus is on you, their employer and you are at risk of having to pay out huge figures in compensation. Nobody wants their workers to get injured and have to pay out large sums in compensation. Or worse, have to tell a family their loved one isn’t coming home. 

Solution: Ask your supplier to review your products with you

There isn’t a better or worse product, there is only a better or worse fit product. If you are unhappy with the products you have received, you need to get in touch with your supplier. It is likely that they are unaware of a quality issue and as such will do their best to help find the best solutions for you. They may even need to get in touch with their suppliers to alert them to this issue and try to get it resolved.

You may also want to review whether the quality of product you have selected previously is up to standard; cheaper products do not last as long as higher quality products and will therefore have a smaller lifetime before they become non-compliant. If you are facing an issue with items becoming non-compliant or deteriorating in quality  in short amounts of time, it is worth looking into different options of varying quality and even trial them. Your supplier should work with you through this process until you have found the best fit solution for you. 

PPE Problem 7: Lots of Legislation 

Last but certainly not least is legislation.

We’ve all been there; yawning, head nodding as we thumb through regulation documents trying to find a paragraph, sentence or bullet point that illuminates what you need to do. 

Legislation also changes, and without being an expert, it can be hard to know just what these changes mean or how they affect you. 

On top of this, we also frequently see companies that don’t know how to match products to legislation and specifications. Whether due to jargon-heavy documents or the aforementioned overcrowded market, this struggle is one many of our clients face. 

Solution: Ask your supplier to help you navigate legislation 

Specialist suppliers in particular are often experts in their field. They may not legally be able to advise, but they can help talk you through any areas you are stuck on and shed light on products you may not have considered. 

If legislation is a persistent obstacle for you, it is worth considering suppliers who are members of the BSIF (British Safety Industry Federation). Their membership with the BSIF ensures they are committed to safety and ethical trading. If they are a Registered Safety Supplier they will only sell certified PPE and safety products that comply with regulation. 

What next?

We understand that some companies have got it right, and some companies find it a struggle. There is no one size fits all solution, no magic wands in the world that will take this away overnight forever. Given the size of the market, the size of the organisations that find this a challenge, and all of the various political, economic, and legislative challenges we face every day, the mountain can seem just too big to start climbing. 

However, if you find that any of the above applies to you, there are safety workwear companies out there (LION is one of them) that have a plan, a process, and a system to help you start tackling this monstrosity of a challenge one bite at a time.

We constantly find the next best thing you can do is to get all your key decision-makers on a no-obligation Discovery meeting with LION.

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