Personal Protective Equipment

5 Ways To Avoid Buying Substandard PPE Gloves

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals and other healthcare entities seeking to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) gloves for their frontline healthcare workers have faced numerous and complex challenges. Overseas supply chain disruptions led to surging prices and supply shortages when PPE was needed most. Seizing on desperate buyers, some less scrupulous PPE manufacturers and suppliers delivered inferior product—or failed to deliver product at all.

An in-depth investigation in October 2021 concluded that tens of millions of substandard and second-hand nitrile gloves had reached the United States. And while the U.S. has emerged from the depths of COVID-19, critical industries like healthcare, transportation, education, and public safety face a daunting challenge in preparing for future pandemics—or future waves of COVID-19. They must differentiate between legitimate providers of high-quality PPE gloves from those that may deliver substandard gloves.

Healthcare organizations should consider these five best practices to avoid buying substandard PPE gloves:

  1. Start with the basics

Buyers purchasing PPE can learn quite a bit by navigating a supplier’s website to research product specifications, data, and certifications. With respect to industry standards and certifications, scammers may forge independent reports, but reliable manufacturers pass rigorous testing protocols conducted by industry-approved international organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization, ASTM International, European Standards (EN), and domestic organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). It is also critical to look for FDA-approved Medical 510(k) glove manufacturers, a designation that ensures gloves meet performance criteria such as leak resistance, tear resistance and biocompatibility.

PPE glove manufacturers should also pass the eye test. While the pandemic has made travel more difficult, site visits to manufacturing facilities can help to ensure the company can meet volume and delivery date goals. The more insights and production capabilities these suppliers are willing to share, the more likely they are a credible operation.

  1. Ask the right questions

Substandard, defective, and overpriced PPE—much of it coming from overseas sources—contributed to the $674 million in estimated fraud losses due to COVID-19 scams as of January 2022. PPE buyers entering into contracts should heavily scrutinize pricing and delivery claims to avoid unexpected outcomes.

Avoiding PPE purchasing issues comes down to asking the right questions. Test various levels of the organization when vetting a manufacturer and their ability to deliver gloves. Look for details on speed and scalability, glove quality, price, certifications for product claims, and the type of testing that has been conducted. At the facility level, ask about what quality control procedures are in place. At the company level, ask about their logistics network and what the organization’s experience and track record are for various levels of volume and delivery turnaround. Finally, test the sales team. Can they answer tough questions or do red flags emerge with evasive or incomplete answers on glove capabilities and certifications?

  1. Be wary of hidden costs

Over-reliance on global supply chains made acquiring PPE in the early phases of COVID-19 an incredible hassle. Not only was the demand for these products through the roof, but these cheap products suddenly became infinitely more costly as buyers were subjected to crippling price surges and shipping delays.

Since then, the cost of gloves has stabilized, introducing the temptation for buyers to once again chase cheaper overseas gloves. However, lurking beneath the PPE “sticker price” are hidden and unknown costs and risks, including shipping costs, delays in receiving the product, and the inability to return orders. Any of these will be detrimental to the bottom line and the ability to adequately protect employees.

  1. Post-delivery glove quality check 

Once the PPE arrives on-premises, conduct a physical quality check. For single-use gloves, consider the film quality (the texture) of the glove to ensure the product is good enough to use. Consistency on the front and the back of the glove are two important marks of quality PPE that will yield strong protection throughout use. Additionally, checking for color consistency or discolorations serves as another way to determine whether the glove will be effective.

Lastly, organizations can also stretch the glove to check for consistency; any holes or veins that might run through the glove would deem the product unusable.

  1. Don’t let domestic manufacturers off the hook

With government funding and contracts in play, several upstart companies have over-promised capabilities they simply don’t have. Opportunists have purportedly stood up PPE manufacturing operations in a matter of weeks or months, and then made glove production claims that defy reality in order to secure contracts, funding and customers.

The fact is that glove manufacturing is a complex, resource-intensive, multi-year process. Be diligent in researching these companies before committing to purchasing from them.

Too many hospitals and healthcare organizations sacrificed PPE-buying due diligence because the need was too great and time was too short. But to avoid history repeating itself and falling victim to substandard gloves, it is critical to thoroughly evaluate glove manufacturers and the gloves themselves so that you are prepared for future demand spikes.

Brian Moseley is SHOWA Group’s RAQA Manager/Technical Manager.