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Sanitiser Industry Urges Government to Adopt Better Regulations

02 March 2021

The safety of children and vulnerable adults could be at risk due to the wave of under-regulated alcohol-based hand sanitisers on the market.

According to Chester-based Byotrol plc, which makes INVIRTU alcohol-free hand sanitiser, an urgent review into controls on the hand sanitiser market is needed, to prevent unscrupulous suppliers from distributing ineffective, misleading and potentially dangerous products to the public. The call comes as 10 cross-party MPs have written to Health Secretary, Matt Hancock asking for an urgent review of the guidelines for hand sanitisers.  

Byotrol is urging the government to recognise the need for higher standards and more rigorous enforcement, which could include providing further resources to agencies such as the Health and Safety Executive and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulation Agency (MHRA) that are currently overwhelmed by other demands. 


“Hand sanitising is now an essential part of everyday life but we’re exposing the most at risk in our society to various dangers thanks to a wild west regulatory regime with loose standards and even weaker enforcement. The government must take action to see that regulations are fit for purpose and that the agencies responsible for protecting the public have the powers and resources to act."

–Dr Trevor Francis

Chief Technology Officer, Byotrol


Poisoning Incidents More Than Doubled in 2020


Despite the dangers of ingestion by children, some hand sanitisers in the UK are being marketed with the scents and images of sweets. University of Oxford research found that the number of poisoning incidents involving alcohol-based products in the first nine months of 2020 was more than double the number in 2019 (155 to 398). 

In a YouGov survey of 2085 adults carried out in December for Byotrol, only 16 per cent were concerned about the risk of children or vulnerable people drinking hand sanitiser, suggesting a potential lack of awareness about the risks. 

In October 2020, authorities in the Republic of Ireland had to recall more than 50 products, including hand sanitisers which rather than ethanol, contained the potentially more harmful substitute methanol. If ingested, even a relatively small amount of methanol can be lethal and as little as 30ml can cause permanent blindness.  

Dr Trevor Francis, Chief Technology Officer of Byotrol, said: “Hand sanitising is now an essential part of everyday life but we’re exposing the most at risk in our society to various dangers thanks to a wild west regulatory regime with loose standards and even weaker enforcement. The government must take action to see that regulations are fit for purpose and that the agencies responsible for protecting the public have the powers and resources to act. We would very much welcome the opportunity to contribute constructively to that from a scientific and industry perspective.”  


HSE “Cannot Recommend any Specific Products”


The Health and Safety Executive’s advice on hand sanitiser for workplaces does not encourage the use of any particular formula over another.

Biocidal products, such as hand sanitisers and surface disinfectants, are beginning to be regulated in the UK under the Biocidal Products Regulation (BPR). This body will require that both biocidal products and the active substances they contain must be assessed and authorised or approved before they can be supplied and used.

HSE states that until an active substance completes that review process, they do not carry out an assessment of the effectiveness or risks from individual disinfectant products as they are not yet fully regulated under the BPR.

Therefore HSE cannot recommend any specific products, and their website simply states that “there are many alcohol- and non-alcohol-based hand sanitisers and surface disinfectants available on the UK market.”

There is a database of authorised products, provides information about products that have been authorised under the BPR in the UK.

The database also contains information about hand sanitiser products that are using the Critical Situation Permit issued by HSE under Article 55(1) of the BPR for the World Health Organisation (WHO)-specified formulation based on propan-2-ol or have been issued with their own permit for a different formulation.

However, HSE states that If a product does not appear on the database, this does not necessarily mean it should not be used. The active substance could still be undergoing review so products based on that active substance would not yet require HSE authorisation.


Ineffective Formulas?


While the pandemic has caused the general public to be more aware of hand hygiene, many are being also misled by incorrect labelling as hand sanitisers in the UK are not subject to an approval process before being placed on the market. It is feared that many consumers are unknowingly purchasing and relying upon products that are not effective in the fight against COVID-19.  

A recent investigation by Which? into the alcohol-based hand sanitiser market found that many products that use alcohol as their active ingredient do not contain enough to be effective at killing germs. 

Nick Roman from Workplace Protect Ltd, a specialist provider of children’s alcohol-free sanitiser and Ladybug dispensers feels that the government’s guidance on alcohol-free sanitiser has been ill-advised.

He commented, “As manufacturers and distributors of health-related products have always experienced, the process of navigating new tech through a series of regulatory and marketing restrictions has been to the detriment of alcohol-free formulas, including those containing active ingredients that were deemed fit for purpose in sanitiser many years ago. 

"Alcohol-containing formulas are being manufactured under an extended temporary policy, yet the Health and Safety Executive admit to not having the adequate resources to enforce standards on an unregulated marketplace. 

"Due to initial ill-advised governmental guidance at the start of the pandemic, the market is alarmingly unaware that in context, alcohol-free sanitiser offers superior protection against skin-transmitted infections and there is no doubt in our minds that many thousands of deaths could have been avoided had certain alcohol-free brands, such as the NHS-supplied brand Nilaqua, been promoted earlier. 

“The public need better awareness of our next-generation products and like-minded brands need to come together to better engage with the policymakers.”

Picture: a graphic showing some bottles of hand sanitiser

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 02 March 2021


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