Skip to main content
Welcome to the cutting edge of safety science—Learn more about our rebrand.
  • Article

COVID-19 Challenges Leave Manufacturers Scrambling to Help with PPE Shortages

UL’s services help companies quickly meet the critical need for trustworthy PPE products.

Medical worker ties a blue medical gown onto another worker.

The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented, affecting many equally across sectors and industries. Freight transportation, commercial aviation, agriculture, restaurants, manufacturing, not-for-profit, small business—the list goes on and on. Ironically, the economy’s sudden halt to help slow the rate of COVID-19 infections also poses its most significant challenge due to the scarcity of the product—personal protective equipment (PPE) kits.

The shuttering of factories and disruption of suppliers everywhere has exacerbated the shortage. Global air cargo capacity has dropped 35% from last year with most trade lanes reporting a 30–60% reduction in capacities over a year ago, severely crippling attempts to resupply hospitals. Additionally, it’s not just hospitals that need PPE kits; its general practitioners, ambulances, mental-health providers, nursing homes, police officers and firefighters—the list goes on and on.

One example that speaks to the challenge was found in the April 15 NHS Providers briefing, Confronting Coronavirus in the NHS. The report describes in great detail how the novel coronavirus affected the U.K.’s National Health Services: “The challenge of coronavirus is that when the pandemic hit, demand from trusts for PPE escalated exponentially, with demand for some items increasing 5000% overnight.”

When one combines the drastic reduction in production and distribution with unforeseen demand, it’s easy to understand how we reached such dire PPE shortages.

Industries everywhere are stepping up to help fill the void—everyone from fashion firms to distilleries pitching in to resupply the economy. Hand sanitizer, fabric face masks, plastic face shields, respirators and ventilators: companies from around the world want to do their part to contribute to our recovery.

PPE shortages more than supply chain challenges

Sadly, however, fraud and the delivery of subpar products have made getting PPEs onto the frontlines more difficult. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed that some imported masks lacked proper fastening mechanisms, while others could only filter out as little as 10% of airborne particles.

In the U.K., some new shipments of droplet-resistant gowns failed quality tests. To help meet the standards of importing countries, China has imposed new export requirements to help stop uncertified PPE products from reaching the market.

Sourcing the right materials combined with inexperience producing medical-grade products is making it difficult for the supply chain to catch up with demand.

It takes time to learn new processes, retool operations and acquire the right materials for the manufacture of PPE. Add in complex regulatory standards, and you can see why it’s been difficult for supplies to catch up with demands.

Help is here

For organizations looking to shift gears and venture into PPE manufacturing, understanding guidelines and regulations applicable to PPE products will be a new challenge. Knowing what to expect upfront can not only help you get critical products manufactured faster but also help you successfully navigate the differing regulatory standards between countries. Learn more and access resources specifically for PPE acceptance at this link.

Demand for PPE kits will continue beyond the pandemic, as this experience has revealed the need always to be prepared. COVID-19 has changed the way we all view health and safety, whether it’s a healthcare worker or the general public. However, quality is a crucial component for acceptance by the purchaser for the protection of the wearer.

Whether you currently produce PPE products for the industry or you’re diverting assets to add PPE production to your operations, make use of UL resources and support to help you get your PPE equipment into the hands of your customers.