1st June 2020

Sub-standard face masks seized

Trading standards officers at Heathrow Airport have intercepted face masks which were incorrectly labelled and counterfeit hand sanitizers.

By JTS Staff
Journal of Trading Standards' in-house team
There has been a surge in firms attempting to import sub-standard face masks, many with false labelling or faked safety certificates

Trading standards teams at Heathrow Airport have stopped 6.5 million sub-standard face masks and 8,000 counterfeit hand sanitisers coming through the airport since the COVID-19 pandemic started, according to London Trading Standards (LTS).

LTS reports that the majority of masks seized had been labelled with false claims or fake safety certificates and around 4.25 million had to undergo label amendments before they were subsequently released. However, 2.25 million have been found not to comply with legal safety standards. Trading standards teams examined a further 1.5 million face masks and no issues were found. Many of the consignments were referred to trading standards by Border Force teams at the airport.

The teams also seized 8,000 fake hand sanitisers, branded Andrex and Comfort, at Heathrow Airport. Suspicions were raised as they had identical packaging and labelling, except for the brand name, and the same batch code on the entire consignment.  Identical fake sanitiser products have been found on sale in Bexley by trading standards officers. A further 4,500 hand sanitisers with false labelling were seized at the airport, according to LTS.

Hillingdon and Hounslow Councils’ trading standards services provide product safety inspections at Heathrow Airport on behalf of the UK Office for Product Safety & Standards (OPSS).

Dangerous goods

As well as stopping dodgy imports, trading standards are increasingly concerned about unsafe UK-made hand sanitisers being sold that fail to meet safety standards. Tower Hamlets Trading Standards have for example recently found UK-made hand sanitiser on sale online from a local shop that contains the banned substance Triclosan.

Ealing Council’s Trading Standards team recently detained 454,500 face masks described as “anti-virus”, where fake safety certification was supplied. Ealing also seized 60,000 face masks that failed to have the necessary importers details, batch, declaration of conformity or test certificates available to demonstrate compliance. The borough also seized 3,390 hand sanitisers, which lacked any legally required information regarding ingredients, batch, traceability, warnings or instructions.

LTS Operations Director, Stephen Knight, said: “Trading standards teams at Heathrow Airport and around London play an important role in protecting consumers from unscrupulous businesses seeking to bypass EU and UK safety laws. There has been a surge in firms attempting to import sub-standard face masks, many with false labelling or faked safety certificates. Trading standards teams are being pragmatic in seeking to let these important goods through, once misleading labelling is removed, and the necessary safety compliance can be shown. However, we will continue to protect consumers from unsafe goods.”

Cllr Ray Puddifoot, Leader of Hillingdon Council and London Councils’ Executive Member for Health & Care, said: “Boroughs’ trading standards teams are on the frontline of London’s clampdown on sub-standard products that are supposed to help protect people from coronavirus.

“As these results show, dishonest businesses are seeking to exploit Covid-19 pressures by bringing in significant quantities of unsafe equipment – but we’re not standing for it.

“The checks carried out by trading standards officers at Heathrow and by local teams across the capital are crucial for identifying fake and sub-standard products, upholding the law, and keeping people safe.”

CTSI Chief Executive, Leon Livermore, said: “I wish to extend my congratulations to the trading standards teams at Heathrow Airport who have seized these counterfeit items. PPE and cleansing liquids have become essential commodities, and sadly, some have chosen to use this as an opportunity to defraud the public and health services.

“Trading standards and other organisations in the consumer protection sphere have been working around the clock defending the public from fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am proud of their work and the contribution they have made to alleviating further harms during this unprecedented situation.”

LTS is highlighting a different area of trading standards response to consumer issues raised by the pandemic over the coming weeks as part of our annual ‘LTS Week’ consumer awareness campaign, this year entitled: “London Trading Standards – Protecting Consumers, Safeguarding Businesses through COVID-19”.

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