In 2014, MSA Safety celebrated its 100th anniversary. The anniversary marked a special achievement for this western Pennsylvania company, founded originally as Mine Safety Appliances Co. But more than that. The company has never relinquished its focus on assuring that men and women throughout the world work in safety.

MSA President and CEO Nishan (Nish) Vartanian sports some of  the top MSA products at company headquarters.
MSA President and CEO Nishan (Nish) Vartanian sports some of the top MSA products at company headquarters.

MSA today comprises two business segments—MSA Americas, led by President Steve Blanco, which manufactures and sells products in the United States, Canada, Mexico and all parts of South and Latin America; and MSA International, led by President Bob Leenen President, which covers Europe, China, Asia-Pacifi c and all other areas of MSA’s global market.

In both cases, the vision of MSA remains the same, emphasizes MSA President and CEO Nishan (Nish) Vartanian; namely to be the world’s leading provider of safety solutions that protect workers when their lives are on the line. “We pursue this vision with an unsurpassed commitment to integrity, customer service and product innovation that creates exceptional value for all MSA stakeholders,” he said.

Up to 2008, MSA had produced a variety of safety product solutions to address the specific and voiced needs of different countries – and customer markets – around the world. But listening carefully to its solution-selling sales force, corporate leadership realized that a “core” group of MSA’s products offered the greatest potential for innovation, market leadership and competitive differentiation, not to mention stronger financial performance for the company.

“Moving forward,” Vartanian remarked, “our next step was to disproportionately invest in research and development regarding these sophisticated core safety products, which today include self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), industrial hard hats, fall-protection equipment, firefighter clothing and helmets, portable gas detectors and fixed systems that provide continuous gas and flame detection to help protect people and facility infrastructures.”

“Listening to the customer voice is in our DNA,” he points out. “And our purpose is to learn what difficulties they have, the safety equipment they’re using today, and what problems they need to solve. As time has gone on, we have increasingly incorporated higher levels of technology into products to solve their problems.”

Still, there exist customer problems in need of solutions. For example, firefighters face extraordinary risks every day. To help protect them, MSA invests significantly in its self-contained breathing apparatus, protective apparel and firefighter helmets. In years past, a firefighter’s SCBA harness was made primarily of nylon, which could burn off , and the breathing apparatus could fall off their backs leaving them in danger of suffocating. With materials like Kevlar, MSA engineers have been available to put heat-resistant material on the harness assembly to avoid these dangers.

Through technology, MSA has enhanced products like its new and market-leading G1 SCBA breathing apparatus, which was developed over a five-year period and represents a $50 million R&D investment for the company. This product now comes equipped with a thermal-imaging camera so that firefighters can locate each other, including a downed firefighter, even in areas engulfed in blinding smoke. This has saved the lives of many firefighters. In fact, fi re departments consider the breathing apparatus to be a key component of an overall life-support system for each firefighter.

MSA Safety sells products into countless markets, but is best known for providing state-of-the-art protection equipment for firefighters.
MSA Safety sells products into countless markets, but is best known for providing state-of-the-art protection equipment for firefighters.

This breathing apparatus and other sophisticated safety products are manufactured around the world, including here in western Pennsylvania, either in Cranberry or in Murrysville.

At the 2019 Fire Department Instructor’s Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis, Ind., MSA previewed LUNAR. Scheduled for availability in 2020, this small, wireless, cloud-ready device is designed to provide higher levels of protection for firefighters through enhanced vision, improved situational awareness, and team connectivity.

LUNAR represents the latest addition to a suite, or ecosystem, of MSA products that enable a level of accountability never before achieved in the fi re-service industry. When used together on a fi reground or while responding to another type of hazard, this suite of products provides a new platform for firefighter safety that MSA has branded as “Connected Firefighter.”

To broaden its market reach, MSA periodically acquires other companies to support growth and its Core Product focus, one of which was General Monitors. Acquired in 2010, General Monitors represents MSA’s single largest acquisition to date. “What it did was solidify our position as the global leader in the fixed-gas and flame-detection (FGFD) market, which covers assets like buildings and other structures that are critical to our customers’ operations,” Vartanian said.

Most recently, MSA Safety acquired Sierra Monitor Corporation of Milpitas, Calif., a leading provider of cloud-based solutions in the FGFD space. This acquisition has enabled MSA to accelerate its strategy to enhance worker safety and accountability using cloud technology and wireless connectivity, a key focus of MSA’s recently established Safety io subsidiary. MSA launched Safety io in 2018, primarily to leverage the capabilities of its portable gas detection portfolio as it relates to cloud connectivity.

“Today, the safety industry is placing greater focus on connectivity and remote monitoring to enhance worker safety,” remarked Vartanian. “With the Sierra Monitor acquisition, we can essentially fast track our connectivity technology from Safety io into infrastructure applications for FGFD systems.”

Regarding diversity, it’s also worthy to note that MSA emphasizes its insistence on diversity among its 4,900 employees. Women now comprise more than 40 percent of its employee population. To recognize MSA’s determination about employee diversity, MSA received the Board Diversity Ambassador Award at the 2020 Women on Boards National Conversation on Board Diversity.

“Receiving this regional award,” Vartanian pointed out, “recognizes our commitment to creating a diverse Board and establishing an equally strong talent pipeline for both men and women.” He added that this includes implementing the EDGE Women’s Leadership Program—a 12-month program focused on helping mid-level, high-potential women at MSA accelerate their professional and personal growth.

As for individual protection, MSA’s manufacturing facility in Murrysville produces millions of helmets and is the world leader in the area of head protection for workers. “One of the ways we differentiate this core product in our markets is our ability to customize hard hats as needed by our customers, with very short turnaround time,” MSA Americas President Steve Blanco emphasizes.

Relative to MSA’s portable gas detection monitors, many of which are manufactured in Cranberry, Blanco points out that Blue Tooth technology is providing a new level of worker protection. This means that an individual wearing an MSA detector can be connected to the cell phones of other individuals, or to a centrally located operations center, where system managers can tell how exactly what hazards an individual on a site might be encountering.

If a wearer is down for a time, these managers know communication has been lacking and the wearer may be in danger,” Blanco points out. “The hazardous environments they work may be immediately dangerous to life and health, so having this information in real time and being able to quickly take steps to help protect them from these hazards speaks to the very nature of our mission.”

From a manufacturing perspective, Blanco notes that many modern technologies are used in its manufacturing processes here in Pittsburgh. “We do robotics soldering and use monitoring technologies on site to make sure we manufacture our products as effi ciently and as eff ectively as possible,” Blanco mentioned.

He added that when the G1 SCBA became a reality, MSA had the latest and best technologies in place to produce it. “We utilized lean work cells to make sure that our manufacturing process had continuous fl ow of the product, quality assurance checks along the way, and semi-autonomous processes in many of our machining centers.

“This just demonstrates that whatever the work situation or whatever dangers workers face, our chief concern is that we keep their safety squarely in mind,” says Blanco.