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MSA Safety products in demand to protect workers in dangerous jobs

| Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, 11:15 p.m.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
“The concept of (not) getting hurt on the job has become more important. Workers and owners are realizing that safety pays,” said William Lambert, CEO of MSA Safety Inc. in Cranberry.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
MSA Safety CEO William Lambert shows an MSA Pittsburgh Penguins-themed hard hat Tuesday Dec. 23, 2014, in the halls of the company's offices in Cranberry.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
MSA Safety's G1 self-contained breathing apparatus is displayed in the company's Murrysville plant on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Michael Johnson wipes the lens of MSA Safety’s G1 self-contained breathing apparatus before sending it to be packaged in the company's Murrysville plant on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Michael Johnson applies a lens cover to MSA Safety’s G1 self-contained breathing apparatus before sending it to be packaged in the company's Murrysville plant on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
The factory floor of MSA Safety's offices in Cranberry.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
MSA's Ultima XE Detector, a device made in the Cranberry factory, hangs in the halls of the company's offices on Tuesday Dec. 23, 2014.

When four firefighters were forced to jump from the third story of a burning building in Ottawa, Ontario, in 2007, they didn't have modern bail-out systems built into their self-contained breathing apparatus — the mask and air-tank gear they wear.

They survived their injuries. Since then, firefighting standards have changed.

Ottawa Fire Services is buying $4 million in equipment — 650 breathing units made by MSA Safety Inc. of Cranberry — including a 50-foot bail-out cable, among other modern features and electronic communications technology. The units recently were delivered for the city's 1,500 firefighters, said Assistant Deputy Chief David Thompson, who ordered the firefighters into the building seven years ago.

“It comes down to improved safety,” Thompson said. “If something goes wrong on the fire scene, seconds count.”

MSA Safety CEO William Lambert expects advanced self-contained breathing units such as the model Ottawa bought and the company's newest, dubbed the G1, to enable the 100-year-old company to gain market share from competitors worldwide.

Such products are key to MSA Safety's strategy to boost sales and earnings.

“This technologically improved product should be a share gain opportunity for them,” said analyst Stanley E. Elliott of Stifel Nicolaus in Richmond, Va. “With 14 patents pending on the new G1 product, we think MSA Safety has moved significantly ahead of the competition.”

Products developed during the past five years, such as the M7XT breathing unit that Ottawa purchased and gas- and flame-detection meters, contributed 36 percent to MSA Safety's third-quarter revenue, up from 22 percent the year before. New products become part of five “core product” segments that are MSA Safety's focus for growth. Since 2009, those segments have accounted for 74 percent of revenue, up from 58 percent in 2009.

“Investors see that breathing new life into the company,” Lambert said.

“It's a very high-quality company that has a strong portfolio of products, and strong R&D efforts to back up those products. They come up with new, creative solutions,” Elliott said.

Net income doubled from $43 million in 2009 to $88 million in 2013, and sales rose 27 percent from $866 million to $1.1 billion.

The company introduced the G1 in December when it received certification by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Shipments to customers began immediately, Lambert said.

“Clearly the G1 is our latest and greatest fire apparatus for global fire departments,” he said. “Government approval came later in the year than we planned (but) that was a big introduction for us. We have a huge backlog that we are working off — it is built at our Murrysville plant.”

Analyst Richard Eastman of Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc. in Milwaukee said MSA Safety's backlog on breathing units rose to $70 million late in the year, largely reflecting G1 orders.

MSA Safety is the No. 1 provider of self-contained breathing apparatus equipment globally and second in the United States, analysts said. Scott Safety, a unit of Tyco International, is No. 1 domestically, and Draeger is second-largest globally.

Modern breathing units allow greater vision and mobility than decade-old units, analysts said. The air cylinders are lighter and contain 15 minutes more air. Electronics were incorporated into air regulators and communication equipment, including heads-up displays on the mask for better communications between firefighters and telemetry systems that allow monitoring and control by commanders.

MSA Safety's goal was to not just keep up with competitors, said Chairman John Ryan III said: “We were looking for a major leapfrog.”

The company spends $45 million a year on research “and the choices we make are very strategic,” said Lambert.

Equipment sales to fire departments have long-term benefits, Lambert said. They tend not to mix and match equipment from competing suppliers. “They call it ‘sticky' — the business lasts. We can hold on to it for 10 to 15 years. Those wins are meaningful.”

Fire service equipment contributes about one-fourth of MSA Safety's annual sales of about $1.13 billion.

But fire service sales take third place among a product lineup dominated by gas- and flame-detection meters used at refineries, processing plants, pipelines and wellheads, or anywhere subject to fumes or gas exposure. They combine for more than one-third of total sales. Sales of hard hats follow with a 13 percent share.

MSA Safety's international sales have surged in recent years to more than half of total sales. Lambert expects more growth in emerging global markets, such as China and Russia.

“There is increased safety awareness in countries around the world,” he said. “It's evident in the dramatic improvement in the quality of safety regulations and enforcement” in Latin America, China, Brazil and other countries.

In the past four years, MSA Safety's growth in emerging markets increased 19 percent a year.

“The world has gotten a lot more sophisticated,” Lambert said. “... Workers and owners are realizing that safety pays. ”

John D. Oravecz is a Trib Total Media staff writer.

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