As Malaysia embarks on the recovery phase of the Movement Control Order (MCO), the safety and wellbeing of the people in the country continue to be a priority alongside efforts in reviving our economy. One way of ensuring this is in the development and implementation of standards for numerous items that have, in today’s day and age, become an essential part of our daily lives. These standards will subsequently act as a benchmark in assuring the quality, safety and efficiency of the items.

While demand for these items has increased tremendously, so too have cases of consumers being cheated or hand sanitisers that either do not contain the required alcohol to be effective or are too strong and not friendly to the skin. These incidents are rife because there are no clear guidelines to follow. This is not only an issue for consumers but also affects industry players who do not have a basis to benchmark their products.

With that in mind, SIRIM has risen to the challenge. Currently, SIRIM STS Sdn Bhd (SIRIM STS) is in the midst of developing standards focusing on non-medical face masks, face shields and hand sanitisers. According to Salmah Mohd Nordin, Head for WTO/TBT Enquiry Point, Technical Information and Consultancy Section under the Standard Research and Development Department at SIRIM STS, “When the pandemic started, countries began enforcing limited movement or even total lockdown, which caused considerable panic among the people and economies to grind to a halt. Now, we need to revive our economy and get it back on track, and industries need to be able to quickly resume operations at full scale.

“However, with no end in sight yet for the pandemic, people are still concerned about safety. In addition to being vigilant and observing the required standard operating procedures (SOPs), they need some form of assurance and guidelines on the more commonly used protective items, so they will have better peace-of-mind as they go out and contribute to the economy.”


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Of course, one of the most common sights around the world now is the face mask. In Malaysia, the government has required the public to don face masks in crowded places and on public transportation since 1 August 2020. However, while there are standards for surgical masks and N95 respiratory masks, there is currently no existing standard for face masks for consumers.

This has left the general population who are not health workers in the dark as to what kind of face masks would offer the best protection for their needs. Another concern is the environmental impact of disposable face masks, which has also led to the production of reusable fabric face masks. As such, industry players like textiles manufacturers looking to expand their scope of services to meet this demand also need some form of guideline.

“Are they effective in protecting users from infection? Should all masks be tested to meet specifications for medical use? To answer such questions, we need a standard that prescribes the requirements for non-medical-use face masks,” explained Salmah. “Furthermore, at one point, face masks were scarce in the country. Our target is to encourage local production. We cannot predict if things will get worse, but we hope to have adequate supply locally,” she added.

In developing the standards, SIRIM STS is referring to World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines as well as international studies and foreign reference documents. Aspects being considered include the quality and safety of the face masks, their performance in terms of filtrati​on efficiency, breathability, materials used, shape and dimension, as well as long-term wearability and comfort. In addition to gathering information, SIRIM STS is also in the midst of establishing a project committee comprising related parties including representatives from the Ministry of Health Malaysia and textiles industry.

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As the COVID-19 outbreak is associated with body fluid exposure, there has been an increased attention to face and eye protection. Face shields offer an additional protective barrier for the facial area from fluids expelled due to physiological processes like vomiting, coughing and sneezing as well as in various medical, dental and veterinary procedures.

Face shields are generally used in conjunction with other personal protective equipment and are therefore classified as adjunctive personal protective equipment. In developing the standard for face shields, SIRIM STS has identified several aspects to look into.

“For one, they need to be able to fit snugly to offer a good seal to the forehead area and prevent slippage,” explained Siti Hadijah Hassan, Senior Executive. “Visors manufactured from acetate, propionate and polycarbonate, meanwhile, offer improved visual clarity.”

She also suggested that face shields need to be of a full face length, with their outer edges reaching to the point of the ear, and include chin and forehead protectors with a cover for the forehead at minimum. “There should also be enough space between the wearer’s face and the inner surface of the visor to allow for the use of ancillary equipment like eyewear,” she added.

Another factor to look into is the cost-effectiveness of disposable versus reusable models and those that offer replaceable parts.

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Right from the start when the pandemic first hit, SIRIM has been doing the best it could to help Malaysia weather through this trying time. Among others, the Industrial Biotechnology Research Centre (IBRC) formulated hand sanitisers.

“Traders would go to IBRC to test their hand sanitisers for safety and efficacy, which led to requests for a set of specifications on the safety of hand sanitisers. At the moment, we don’t have any Malaysian standards specifically for hand sanitisers,” said Nor Azian Duriat, Senior Executive.

In developing a standard for hand sanitisers, it’s not just the percentage of ethanol that is important, but also the formulation, percentage of other materials used and suitability for all ages, cultures and religions, to name a few. Once the standard is published, consumers can use it as a guideline to make an informed choice.

Nor Azian hopes that the standard will increase awareness among the public on the safety aspects of hand sanitisers. “Not all hand sanitisers you find on shelves are safe for you and may cause detrimental reactions,” she cautioned. Above all, she warned the public not to attempt to make their own hand sanitisers as they might not be as effective and might even be dangerous.


 
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In facilitating the development of standards, SIRIM will work closely with the relevant stakeholders, including regulatory agencies like the Ministry of Health Malaysia, Department of Chemistry and Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, dermatologists and consumer associations. The goal is for the standards to be widely accepted by the public and used by industry players as guidance for their production.

“Our target is to get the standards ready within four to six months. We are currently preparing the preliminary draft and have been referring to related research studies and WHO guidelines to compile the information into standard format. We will be getting stakeholders together to deliberate on the draft thereafter.

“We are currently focusing on developing standards for face barriers, face shields and hand sanitisers only, but we foresee that there may be more COVID-19-related standards needed as we progress,” shared Salmah.

Note: This article was published in SIRIMlink 2/2020, you may find more interesting topics HERE

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