In the spotlight with Mark Johnstone
04 October 2018
HSM Managing Editor Mark Sennett sat down with JSP chief executive Mark Johnstone to reflect on spending nearly two decades in the health and safety sector.
How did you get into the health and safety industry?
JSP is a family business - started by my father in 1964 manufacturing workwear and gloves and moving into PPE in the 1970’s. My background is qualifying as a chartered accountant with Price Waterhouse Coopers in London before moving into corporate finance and consultancy. In 1999, my father said that he was thinking to appoint an interim manager for JSP and I decided that it was the time was right for me to step into the business. I wanted to try the role and see how things went and if I didn’t enjoy it then I could always go back to working in the City again but here I am still at JSP nearly 20 years later.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
We have a simple mission statement - ‘to improve the safety and health of people in their workplaces worldwide’. This is not some glib phrase - it’s something we are incredibly passionate about. When we can see we’ve made a difference, such as when people have had their lives saved by our products it really validates what we do.
We engage a lot with end users and have a constant feedback loop for what they are looking for in terms of products and performance to our in-house Research and Development team. We are one of the few manufacturers that heavily invests in an internal Research and Development team and this has enabled us to quickly bring out highly innovative products, which meet and exceed people’s requirements. That is incredibly satisfying to me - as is also being able to go into advancing economies and help to introduce and educate businesses on the importance of health and safety.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the health and safety industry in UK?
Without a doubt the main issue is counterfeit and substandard products coming into the market. I think the new PPE Regulation will help but it will still take time and a concerted approach from the whole industry to tackle this problem is needed.
At JSP, we operate BSI Kitemark schemes for our products. The Kitemark is the platinum standard for product quality - providing a guarantee that every product that JSP manufactures and sells into the market place is from a batch that has been controlled and tested to ensure it passes the relevant standard - and we keep records of every batch test result for 20 years.
This is over and above a CE certificate, which evidences that a product has passed the relevant standard at a single point in time. Under the new PPE Regulation, the CE mark will have to be renewed every five years. Materials, machine settings, ambient temperatures that may affect processes and even processes themselves may be inadvertently changed over time - which might lead to a different test result. So CE certification is a standard pass but not a guarantee of continuous standard passing as it is under a Kitemark scheme.
The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) has introduced the Registered Safety Supplier Scheme (RSSS), which is extremely important and acts as a code of ethics to ensure its members operate to the required standards and that their products pass tests. This is a good and helpful initiative by the Industry to raise awareness and to help tackle the problem of substandard product. The BSIF are also now well-linked with Trading Standards so fast and effective action to get these dangerous products taken off the market quickly will happen once the industry is aware of them.
How do you think these challenges can be overcome?
Raising awareness about this issue is really important. BSI itself is doing a lot of work to raise awareness about the PPE industry. We run joint seminars with BSI at our facility in Oxford on product standards - where they have come from and where they are heading towards. We also explain how relevant they are today and relate them to some of the hazards that people face in the workplace. This has been incredibly helpful along with raising the profile of BSIF’s RSSS. I think we are making real progress given this collective approach from BSI, the BSIF, BSIF members and wider elements in the industry.
What sets JSP apart from its competitors?
We care and have an incredible passion for improving health and safety. We listen to end users and will adapt products to give the result that they need in the environment they face. We export to more than 100 countries and I know that our products will be very successful globally as we have designed them for use in extreme environments. This means they are suitable for use in massive temperature ranges (+50 to -40 centigrade), low lighting, noisy and extreme dusty environments such as in mines. We are able to bring products to markets that have proven success in extreme hazardous environments by for example improving the performance of elements such as valves on respirators, methodologies for checking the face fit of a respirator and choosing the correct helmet for a given hazardous environment.
What are you most memorable successes?
In 2014, Frost and Sullivan from their own independent analysis recognised and awarded JSP as European market leader for industrial head protection. That was a validation of a plan we put in place six years earlier to invest and grow our UK manufacturing base, which saw us redevelop and redesign our product ranges for automation. From that point onwards, we have invested more than £20milllion in new products and new UK manufacturing, creating over 150 jobs in the UK around Oxfordshire.
We’ve grown the business especially over the last four years and have opened up new sales and marketing offices overseas as well as new manufacturing premises. We have just opened up new manufacturing operations in Dusseldorf, Germany. We also have sales offices in France, Spain, Poland, USA, UAE, China and East Africa - and this base continues to develop.
What's next in the product pipeline for JSP?
We’ve just brought out our PowerCap® Infinity™, which is the lightest fully integrated TH3 4 in 1 protection unit worldwide. It fills a new niche of powered air because there’s no need for face fit testing. We believe the future is powered air as it helps companies overcome the huge burden of having to face fit their workforce. It’s also much more comfortable and this product has enabled us to integrate all above-the-neck protection into one product. The investment to bring out this product alone has been over £1.6million and I think this proves our passion and our belief to work with end users to create solutions that meet and exceed their needs.
In addition, our Springfit™ disposable mask features the most effective, responsive fit thanks to its sprung endoskeleton. When you wear it the mask springs onto your face and gives a perfect face fit for when you are doing occasional tasks and you can then fold it and place it in your pocket.
Press To Check™ is in my opinion the greatest innovation in respiratory protection in over 20 years. We carried out a huge amount of analysis behind it and published a whitepaper, which challenged Press To Check™ as an alternative qualitative face fitting testing method. This caused some controversy but for good reasons as it helped prove that this is a very good way of daily self-checking your face fit every time you put on the mask. This is necessary when factors such as beard stubble, weight gain/loss may affect your facefit compared to the standard bitrex qualitative facefit test method which may have been carried out months earlier. In independent testing, we were able to achieve a 97.1% correlation that someone passing the 5 point Press To Check™ test would then pass the quantitative face fit test using Portacount testing equipment - which is extremely sensitive, accurate and objective.
We also have new industrial safety helmets coming out, which will be launched at the end of this year. These are exciting as they will offer new levels of performance beyond anything that’s currently on the market.
So, we have a huge pipeline and this comes on the back of us releasing 10 products over the past year. Some companies only want to release two or three products per year, but we are so engaged with our end user customers that the drive to make new innovations to meet their needs is relentless.
What's your vision for the future of JSP?
If you strip our business to the core our business is about one thing - People Risk Management - helping companies to better protect their personnel. Products are part of that but so is training and our vision for the future is that JSP will be moving more into the consultative-type process where we are not just into specifying the product but also helping people to implement a mindset focused towards health and safety, and maintaining programmes effectively. We are doing this already through things like our five-star guide on head protection, which hugely simplifies and brings clarity to which products you should be wearing in different environments. We are also working in emerging markets such as Africa and Asia raising awareness and sometimes just giving training on PPE products - what they are, when to use them and how to wear them.
What health and safety issues are you most passionate about?
Without a doubt it’s the standards and performance levels of products. A product may look as though it will do a job, but will it actually perform to the standard required? Category 3 products are about life or death. Someone cutting corners to make a few extra pennies is potentially endangering someone’s life.
What value can you put on someone’s life? We have seen real-life situations in parts of the world where someone wearing a poor sub-standard safety helmet that failed to provide protection caused the individual to die.
People that try to peddle sub-standard products as being to the correct standard must be driven out of the industry. Under the new PPE Regulation, in my view there’s a duty of care to test all products you are putting onto the market. Manufacturers and Importers are now equally called “Economic Operators” - finally the playing fields are being levelled to ensure there is real responsibility and accountability to product management and product specification.
Every JSP product comes with £10million single claim product liability insurance and we batch test every product we put onto the market place. That level of quality management costs money but it also builds your brand.
How can we entice more young talent to work in the health and safety sector?
I think we need to change the image of health and safety to be a force for good not being a negative ‘health and safety says no’ culture. That phrase is often used as an excuse for laziness or ignorance and this needs to change. It’s a fact that the best run and best performing companies are those with very good health and safety standards.
Millennials are a lot more health conscious and aware. They are more open and actively take part in training exercises, will wear appropriate PPE and adopt a safety culture more readily.
Safety needs to be embedded/integrated into all processes rather than be seen as a separate string to a process. I think that philosophy is developing well in recent years.
Mark Johnstone is chief executive of JSP Ltd. For more information, visit www.jsp.co.uk