55 issued, hundreds to go
Published: 18th Apr 2017
The NRCS and safety footwear approval numbers - NRCS, SABS, and the safety footwear industry – no improvement in relationships
Pretoria (SA) – The National Regulator for Compulsory Standards (NRCS) has so far issued approval numbers for 55 styles of safety footwear, according to its latest figures.
It’s not clear how many styles have been submitted by how many suppliers to the NRCS for approval, but it would be reasonable to estimate between 300 and 400 styles and at least 25 suppliers. At the current rate of approvals, it would take 6 to 8 years to clear the backlog, not allowing for new styles coming on to the market.
Local manufacturers have the greatest number of styles but the fewest approval numbers so far.
The BBF Safety Group – overall the single biggest safety footwear supplier – has applied for most of its 180 styles, but has numbers for only 2 of them. Neptun Boot has 12 styles that require numbers, but has thus far only applied for 2 – the first in 2014, the second earlier this year – and has not had a response. Bata, which makes its gumboots locally and imports its leather safety footwear, has submitted around 25 styles, and has had 1 approved.
Manufacturers concerned at the apparent disparity – what they see as possible victimization by the NRCS – have asked the Southern African Footwear & Leather Industries Association (SAFLIA) to take over negotiations with the NRCS, the SABS and the Department of Trade & Industry, under which both fall, on their behalf.
And SAFLIA has responded. “We’ve escalated this issue from company level to association level,” chairman Noel Whitehead said. “We’ve taken it up on behalf of the safety footwear manufacturers because we believe they have right on their side, and because we believe this will have to be resolved at a fairly high government level – an avenue which is easier for an industry association than for individual companies.
“We’re taking this seriously. We need to get a satisfactory response from the SABS and the NRCS and will use all means available to SAFLIA in order to achieve a satisfactory and urgent outcome for our members.”
BBF, with its big range, feels it has been disadvantaged by the “lack of co-operation between the NRCS and the SABS over testing”. At issue is that in terms of the standard which all safety footwear has to adhere to – ISO or SANS 20345 – tests must be done on 3 sizes: 5, 8 and 13. The SABS, however, has up until recently only been testing size 8 samples, and around 80% of BBF’s test reports are only on size 8s. It has asked for either special dispensation from the NRCS on styles already tested, or that the SABS test the missing sizes at no charge. “Neither is budging,” said BBF CEO Silvio Ceriani. “At R55 000 per full test for a style, it’s not an argument we want to lose.
“Our other concern with the SABS is the slow rate of testing. We estimate it will take them between 1 and 2 years to test our samples.”
Not all are that concerned, though. “When the NRCS inspectors come to our factory, they tell us to be patient,” Neptun MD Jon Robb said. “To be honest, we’re more interested in building our brand and business globally than worrying about the NRCS.”
Importers dominate the list, both in terms of number of brands and in number of approvals, but their approval rates are patchy.
Rebel Safety Gear received its first 4 numbers in March, out of an undisclosed number of styles submitted. “We submitted our first applications in May 2014, and have sent through revised applications over time, as the requirements changed and as we understood them better,” GM Rob Gingell said.
In November, Claw Boot received approval numbers for 3 of its most important styles – out of 8 leather and 3 gumboot styles applied for.
Importer ProFit received 1 approval early last year, but completely revised its range in the last quarter of last year, and hopes its numbers will come through soon. “We’ve applied for 8 styles and have been in consultation with NRCS regularly and been to visit with them in Pretoria,” said national sales manager Nicholas Bryant. “We’ve been advised our first approval is imminent.”
“It seems that some companies with a handful of lower end, basic styles have received all or most of their numbers quite quickly,” an industry insider said. “More serious players appear to be at a disadvantage.”
The approval numbers are not yet mandatory, and safety footwear companies can show proof that they have applied for the numbers. “The problem comes when you submit a completely new style,” said a supplier who didn’t want to be named. “Previously the NRCS would issue a temporary permit pending approval. Now, for new styles, you have to go through the entire process, and receive the approval number, before you can import it.”