CE Approved or Not CE Approved?

We all live in an age where prices, on the whole, have never been cheaper for basic commodities. This is perhaps more noticeable in the Marial Arts world, where the uptake of new students over the past 15 years has never been higher. And today, it is a common fact that the most active uuptake in any Martial Art style is by children. Parents, rightly, see the practising of Martial Arts as a stimulant for their offspring. Discipline, politeness and respect are three of the virtues students will learn. Add to that confidence, and, in today’s increasingly violent world, an ability to perhaps defend oneself from attack, the Martial Arts still offers one of the most satisfying all round fitness and personal development training available anywhere.

As a result of such large numbers now training, the competition side has grown and developed. The exclusive minor meeting once held between local clubs has blossomed into major regional, national and international events, giving people the opportunity to truly compete on a World level.

As a result of this development, equipment and safety has also moved on somewhat from the early days! I remember entering competitions when the only protection you wore was a gumshield! Injuries were common, from cuts and bruises to bone breaks, but despite the risk, nothing could compare to the stimulus of walking onto the mat to take on your opponent. The risks were there, we just never gave them a second thought!

Since then, Health and Safety has become more and more prevalent in our lives, and with the increase in the numbers of people taking up Martial Arts, especially children, so the injuries increased. Safety was something that could no longer be overlooked, especially in areas where full contact sparing was permitted. As a result, sparring equipment became more and more a requirement of competition entry.

Gradually, equipment became available more readily that would offer protection to those areas deemed most at risk. Although simple protection was in use to protect the hands and shins, this was, in effect, all that was used. Head Guards and Chest protection were adopted, along with Forearm Protectors and so during the 1990’s especially, a full set of safety protection was available. However, this was largely unregulated, meaning that suppliers could sell whatever they wanted.

In 1995, the European Community introduced a specification, endorsed by all the member countries quality institutes, outlining basic criteria that all PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) had to meet. Known as CE Approval, this specification is administered by each country under it’s own central quality, in the case of the UK, the British Standards Institute. This specification covered 3 very important areas of safety:

1. Impact Testing

2. Toxicity of materials used

3. Zones of protection offered

In short, for an item to carry the CE Approved logo, it had to withstand a number of very important test criteria. It had to demonstrate that it could withstand force of impact to the relevant areas it protected and that the materials were not harmful to health. Meeting all the relevant test areas meant that a product was deemed Approved for use and could carry the presitigious CE approved mark.

So, in 1995, this requirement became law. As with many new laws, a period of implementation was granted, to allow manufacturers to have their products tested accordingly. In 2008, one would expect that any safety equipment they purchased would be approved. Sadly, this is not the case, and CE Approved equipment, for Martial Arts at least, is almost non-existent.

In an age where price appears to be the most important issue to the consumer, and with the seeming ease with which almost anyone can import products from overseas, we have, unfortunately, an industry where there is little or no regulation or control over what is sold, the quality standards nor the reliability. If you search the internet, you can find head protectors for as low as £12, totally unapproved, and therefore, technically, illegal. At the other end of the scale, you can find an approved head protector ranging in price from around £20 upto £35, depending on the brand. So, for just £8 pounds or so more, you can have a fully tested, fully apporved, completely legal, and, perhaps more importantly, peace of mind knowing that, if you, you child or anyone else suffers and injury, your insurance will cover you.

Contrast this with mainland Europe, where it is almost impossible to find non CE approved equipment. Here, the legislation is rigorously policed and enforced. Why is this not the case here in the UK? I guess this is question only Trading Standards can answer, and from experience, no answer has ever been forthcoming, no matter how many times the question is asked.

So, next time you are buying sparring and safety equipment, ask yourself a question……”What price is my safety, or even my life worth?” Sounds dramatic maybe, but consider this, serious injury or even death is always a possibility, especially with blows to the head and body. Nothing is a concrete guarantee, but for the sake of just a few pounds or dollars, is it really worth the risk?

Nicole Thomas

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