A standard approach

A standard approach

Ivan Rich is Technical Manager at Bristol Uniforms and secretary for two CEN committees. Here he explains how international PPE standards are created and refreshed, and brings us up-to-speed on the latest to be published and reviewed. 

Fire and emergency services across the globe need to know that they can fully rely on the safety and quality of their PPE, whether purchased in their own country or overseas. To ensure the best level of protection, most countries demand conformity with international standards of performance for PPE. This way, customers can be assured that they are purchasing quality kit that has been through rigorous testing and is fit for purpose. This helps to break down technical and language barriers between countries and makes it much more straightforward for manufacturers to trade goods and services. 

There are currently three major standard-setting bodies on the world stage: the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) which covers Europe, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) which covers the USA, Latin America, the Middle East and the Asia/Pacific region, and the International Standards Organisation (ISO) which sets standards worldwide.

Emergency services in the region range from Industry Firefighters for oil, gas and petrochemical companies to Civil Defence firefighters. As a result, preferences for certification vary in the Gulf region, with some requesting CEN and others NFPA certification. 

As such, the vast majority of garments and products should be accredited by both the CEN and NFPA, and also by ISO, and certainly are in the case of Bristol Uniforms, so that customers across the globe can select their preferred kit with the peace of mind that it meets the requirements of their preferred certification body.

Outlined below is some further information on each of these standards bodies, how they create standards, and specific detail on recently published standards as well as those under review.


European-wide standards for PPE were established back in the 1990s, with the aim of strengthening overall product safety and quality. PPE is manufactured and certified to these standards as a means of ensuring conformity with the European Economic Community (EEC) Directive 89/686/EEC. 

The European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) is responsible for developing and reviewing these standards in Europe, with input from 33 National Standards Bodies (NSB) in member countries.

When an application for a new standard is put forward to CEN, NSB committees are able to make comment and vote as to whether it should go ahead. These experts are then able to input into the preparation and drafting of the standard. 

Once approved, a standard is published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), and has to be adopted by all CEN member countries. Standards are subject to systematic review within five years of publication to ensure their continuing accuracy. The review considers whether the standard should be retained, amended, withdrawn, or revised.


Founded in 1896, the NFPA was originally established by a small group of people in Boston, USA concerned about the numerous different standards for sprinkler installation. Today, the organisation oversees nearly 300 safety standards covering a range of subjects including fire safety. These standards are used in many countries throughout the world and developed by around 280 technical committees. NFPA standards are updated every three to five years, with every revision taking approximately two years to complete. 

NFPA actively encourages public participation in standard development. A call for public input is made at the outset and comment is invited on subsequent revisions produced by a technical committee. Each revision must be agreed by at least two thirds of the committee and is decided by ballot. The NFPA Standards Council is the overseer of the development process and official issuer of a standard. It has the final say and approves and issues all standards. 


ISO officially launched in 1947 following a meeting in London, UK of delegates from 25 countries. They devised the creation of a new international organisation which aimed to facilitate the international coordination and unification of industrial standards. 

Today, ISO has members from 163 countries and 3,368 technical bodies who come together to share knowledge and develop international standards, with a view to supporting innovation, providing solutions to industrial challenges and facilitating free and fair global trade.

ISO Standards are developed by technical committees made up of industry experts, NGOs, governments and other stakeholders, put forward by ISO’s members. There is a specific technical committee for developing PPE standards. 

When a need for a standard is identified, the technical committee meets to develop a draft. This is shared with ISO’s members who are able to comment and vote. If a consensus is reached the draft becomes an ISO standard, if not it goes back to the technical committee for further edits.

Recently published standards

NFPA 1971: 2018 (Protective Ensembles for Structural and Proximity Fire Fighting)

The NFPA’s main standard for firefighting PPE has recently been revised. Its requirements apply to the design, performance, testing, and certification for structural firefighting. It establishes minimum levels of protection from thermal, physical, environmental, and bloodborne hazards. At Bristol Uniforms we have already achieved re-accreditation for our garments, including our popular XFlex structural firefighting range. 

EN16689: 2017 (Technical Rescue PPE)

This is a new standard recently introduced by the CEN. It provides minimum performance requirements for technical rescue PPE where there is no risk of chemical, biological, radiological and electrical hazards. Here at Bristol we have now tested four of our technical rescue fabric combinations against the new standard.

EN13911: 2017 (Fire Hoods)

Published in September last year, this standard outlines the requirements and testing methods for fire hoods. All Bristol’s fire hoods have now been tested and certified to this new standard, including our new Particulate Protection Hood.

ISO 15384: 2018 (Wildland PPE)

This is a new revision of the standard ISO 15384:2003, outlining laboratory test methods and performance requirements for wildland firefighting. There are on-going discussions as to whether this will become a dual EN ISO standard and also replace EN 15614.

Standards under review

EN469: 2005 (Structural PPE)

This standard provides minimum performance requirements for protective clothing for firefighters in Europe. It was reviewed and updated in 2014, but was subsequently withdrawn from OJEU due to errors. The standard is now being reviewed and rewritten in consultation with CEN consultants, employed by the EU Commission to monitor and advise on standards development. Currently, the first enquiry draft is being revised in line with technical and editorial comments, and will then be put to a formal vote. If this is positive, the revised standard will be published in late 2019.

ISO 13506: 2017 (Manikin Test)

This standard has been under revision for several years and provides requirements for the testing of garments. Having passed the formal vote, the standard was approved and subsequently published in September 2017. However, an immediate revision has begun, with more trials being conducted.

EN ISO 20471: 2013 (high visibility warning clothing)

This standard outlines the minimum requirements for high visibility clothing. It has recently undergone a review but it has been decided that no revision will be made at present. 

Wherever possible, CEN, NFPA, ISO, and many National Standards Bodies (NSBs) work closely together to replicate requirements, so that standards can be developed in line with each other. This makes adhering to standards much easier, and helps to promote global best practice. 

As a leading PPE designer and manufacturer, Bristol Uniforms is closely involved in the development and review of these international industry standards, providing valuable expertise and knowledge, but also intelligence from our customers, which we feed into the standards development process. 

We believe international standards provide an essential safeguard, enabling firefighting services across the world to confidently purchase kit of good quality that has been through rigorous testing and is fit for purpose.