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In the spotlight with Ian Kelsall

17 June 2024

We put Draeger Safety's Ian Kelsall in the spotlight on to find out how he found himself working in the world of health and safety.

How did you get into the health and safety industry?

I stumbled into the safety industry 17 years ago not really understanding what Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was or the role it played. I studied Chemistry at university which gave me a foundation of knowledge about hazards and risk and this led me into a technical service role for a large PPE manufacturer. I learned the products and the regulations from the ground up and have continued to build on this knowledge by spending time with Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) specialists in more industries than I could have ever imagined.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The best part of my job is being on site with SHE professionals reviewing the challenges they face, seeing the processes and controls they have and then being able to help them solve these issues by finding them the right safety solution. For me, much of my interest in the area goes back to the mid-80s when as a child we would visit the power station where my Dad worked for “family fun days” – the size and complexity of large industry has fascinated me ever since.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the health and safety industry in UK?Maintaining the pool of talent with the appropriate knowledge is becoming an increasing challenge. There’s a constant need to recruit and train new SHE professionals across all sectors and ensure that they can focus on the key priorities in their roles. This gets harder as their responsibilities continue to expand. Many are now often given multiple and complex new responsibilities such as quality, environmental and wellbeing and need to maintain the latest knowledge and training to be able to support their company in meeting or exceeding their obligations in each of these areas.

How do you think these challenges can be overcome?

There are many good organisations out there to support SHE professionals in maintaining the relevant level of knowledge needed. There need to be pathways for new recruits to progress in their careers and gain the necessary qualifications, whilst actually practising health and safety management in real-life, rather than expecting everyone to start fully qualified. Given the breadth of topics that a SHE Manager may need to be aware of and have knowledge and experience of, it’s important to know that reputable suppliers such as Dräger Safety are there to support and offer expertise and guidance. But perhaps more importantly, that they can be confident that advice is offered with safety in mind before sales.

What sets Dräger Safety apart from its competitors?

Since it was founded in Germany in 1889, Dräger has established a reputation for high quality, robust and reliable safety products across areas including gas detection, respiratory protection, alcohol and drug detection and breathing apparatus.

Having supported customers in many mortal risk environments such as mines rescue, offshore oil and gas, the military and firefighting for decades, Dräger has been able to bring this experience and best practice to support general industry, and works with businesses across many sectors, including utilities, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and food & beverage. 

With over 16,000 employees worldwide, and a significant research and development (R&D) function within the business, Dräger has the right people in place and the right expertise to understand the customer’s requirements and find a solution to help, whether it’s related to a product, service, training or consultancy.

What are you most memorable successes at Dräger Safety?

This may sound cheesy but anytime that you work with a safety professional to identify an issue and find a solution that leaves both them and their team in a safer situation than they were before, is what I would consider a success. We also like to make sure that any solution we provide isn’t just delivered but that we work with the end-users to ensure they are comfortable with the products, know how to use and look after the solution properly. I want our customers to be safe for the long -term – the long term really matters to Dräger as a business.  So anytime we deliver training and someone says “I didn’t know that” or “that’s better than what we had before” then it also gives a real sense of satisfaction that we’ve been able to help.

What’s next in the product pipeline for Dräger Safety?

It’s great to work for a company with end-to-end solutions for respiratory protection, from the simplest filtering facepiece (FFP) respirator up to fully self-contained breathing apparatus. The business is constantly innovating to address challenges and applications where there isn’t an ideal solution and to ensure that people are protected with a product that is suitable and appropriate for them, their environment and the task at hand. We are particularly excited at the moment as we are introducing a new range of powered air purifying respirator welding visors to address the challenges faced with welding fumes now recognised as a carcinogen).

What’s your vision for the future of Dräger Safety?

Connected technology and greater use of data and digitisation is a big trend across the business. Our experts in the medical division of the business, Dräger Medical, have introduced some really impressive digital solutions that integrate products and systems in hospitals. In the same way, we’re already moving to becoming a full safety solutions provider, we don’t just offer product, we offer support services and increasingly these are becoming aligned with further connectivity and data management solutions.

What do you think the medium-term future holds for the safety industry globally?

The safety industry will continue to play an important role across many different industry sectors and will continue to increase in focus over time. Digitisation and Industry 4.0 will continue to influence in the medium term as devices become more connected, and the safety industry will need to keep up to ensure that solutions take advantage of connectivity to increase knowledge, awareness and productivity, and improve safety outcomes. I also think that we will have to adjust safety requirements and solutions to make them suitable for an increasingly diverse and ageing workforce.

What health and safety issues are you most passionate about?

Working in respiratory protection, I am most passionate about the long-term health of workers that are exposed to hazards today that may have a significant impact in future through diseases such as cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma. It’s great to see campaigns to build awareness about some of the most critical issues such as silica dust, welding fume, wood dust and spray-painting. Working with industry to help control these hazards, train workers, raise awareness of the issues and change attitudes is something that I’m proud to be involved in.

How can we entice more young talent to work in the health and safety sector?

Health and Safety is hopefully moving away from the historical days when it was seen as nuisance ‘red tape’ and professionals portrayed as the “health and safety police”. Young people are much more health conscious and aware of what good wellbeing in the workplace looks like, and I hope this this will ensure health and safety remains a focus. Ensuring that young people can see a career pathway in health and safety is also important. Options that are both academic or industry based, such as apprenticeships, should be available and offer the same opportunities for future growth. 

Ian Kelsall is technical specialist, respiratory protection equipment (RPE) at Draeger Safety UK.