Ascending to excellence: How MSA Safety is leading the way in tower safety

MSA delivers enduring systems that help to save lives and mitigate risk

Read this article to learn:

  • How attitudes to H&S and legislation on user safety have changed around the globe over the last 40 years
  • The unique challenges of working at height in telecoms and how fall protection systems need to address this
  • The role of drones in tower inspection and maintenance and their impact on worker safety
  • How MSA’s Latchways® offering is evolving to meet the needs of changing infrastructure

In October 2015, global safety equipment manufacturer MSA acquired UK-based Latchways, a best-in-class provider of fall protection systems and solutions. MSA doubled their fall protection business through the acquisition, bringing on board new systems and expertise, and the deal offered Latchways the benefit of a truly global reach for their innovative solutions. We spoke with Alastair Hogg, Director of Fall Protection Sales and Business Development, International and Tim Bissett, Technical Manager, Fall Protection to find out more about MSA’s solutions and how its offering is evolving.

TowerXchange: Tell us about MSA, the company’s background and footprint.

Alastair Hogg, Director of Fall Protection Sales and Business Development, International, MSA:

MSA is over 100 years old as a business, having been founded in 1914. It’s a truly global company, employing around 4,000 people worldwide, and with a revenue of $1.2bn. 

In terms of our footprint, the business is split into two main areas: the Americas, which includes Canada, the USA and Latin America; and International: Europe, Middle East (from which we run operations in Africa and India), China and Pacific Asia. As well as headquarters in each of these regions, we also have offices, R&D capacity, technical teams and manufacturing capabilities in every region in which we are operational.  

MSA stands for Mine Safety Appliances, as when MSA first started over 100 years ago we provided gas detection solutions for people working in mines. Many MSA products integrate a combination of electronics, mechanical systems and advanced materials to protect users against hazardous or life-threatening situations. The company’s comprehensive product line is used by workers around the world in a broad range of markets, including the oil, gas and petrochemical industry, the fire service, the construction industry, mining and the military. MSA’s core products include self-contained breathing apparatus, fixed gas and flame detection systems, portable gas detection instruments, industrial head protection products, fire and rescue helmets, and fall protection devices.

TowerXchange: Tell us about your products and solutions and how they can make a difference to tower owners.

Alastair Hogg, Director of Fall Protection Sales and Business Development, International, MSA:

The principal benefit is providing a layer of safety to those who are climbing the towers: employees or subcontractors working on their behalf. What differentiates MSA’s Latchways solutions from our competition is the flexibility and versatility of our product range which has been built over 40 years. Our systems have been developed to fit all shapes and sizes of towers and ladders across the world. The final piece of the puzzle is that we use the high-grade materials in our systems and that they are robustly tested for all weather climates and conditions. Hours of salt fog, high wind and vibration testing show that our systems can last as long (if not longer) than the structure itself. Our customers don’t need to worry about rust or damage by high winds and that quality results ultimately in a low cost of ownership.

Hours of salt fog, high wind and vibration testing show that our systems can last as long (if not longer) than the structure itself. Our customers don’t need to worry about rust or damage by high winds and that quality results ultimately in a low cost of ownership

TowerXchange: MSA’s Latchways range has been around for forty years – how have attitudes and requirements in safety changed in that time? What effect has it had on business owners? 

Alastair Hogg, Director of Fall Protection Sales and Business Development, International, MSA:

Over that 40 years, safety has naturally gone from being an afterthought to becoming a significant concern. Tower safety now carries liability implications as a result of legislation. 

There has been a consistent escalation of safety awareness and standards. In most developed regions such as Northern Europe there are rigorous standards in place, and in less developed parts of the world they’re in an in early adoption phase and still have some way to go. There is a long way to go in terms of global adoption of high safety standards. In fact, developed parts of the world differ too – Northern Europe may have a strong safety approach but if you look to the US, in the last couple of years there has been quite a focus on safety for telecoms industry following a number of fatalities that resulted in the US Labor and Federal Commission setting up a working group to prevent falls, culminating in guidance for the specification, installation and inspection of fall protection equipment used in the telecoms sector.

TowerXchange: You work across many different sectors; do you find telecoms differs from others? What practices in other industries could be/have been applied to telecoms? 

Tim Bissett, Technical Manager, Fall Protection, MSA:

From a Northern Europe perspective, where a lot of our knowledge was gained, climbing vertical structures is arduous – workers have to ascend structures which are 20/30/40+ metres tall. 

Furthermore, solutions need to be adapted to the environment. For example, if you take a harness that we produce for vertical applications, it’s designed differently to a harness for rooftop applications. A user might be moving around on the structure at height, gain egress and access to other parts not covered by the fall protection system dedicated to ascent and decent. For vertical applications, such as telecoms towers or electricity pylons, the equipment needs to be comfortable, and able to be attached to different parts of the structure. The fall protection solution needs to allow the user to ascend and descend without the need to remove their hands from the structure to make the whole process as uncomplicated as possible. 

Alastair Hogg, Director of Fall Protection Sales and Business Development, International, MSA:

The telecoms world was a new business in the 1990s. MNOs had towers popping up all over the place and were building their network from scratch, meaning they deployed a pretty high safety standard across the majority of their sites. They built the network properly and were able to build safety features in at the design stage so much of it was installed when the tower was built. It’s quite a unique thing about telecoms compared to other industries, bearing in mind power distribution had already been around for decades. 

TowerXchange: As networks densify, there’s a need for new types of site: be it rooftops or street poles. Is this something MSA can cater for?

Tim Bissett, Technical Manager, Fall Protection, MSA:

We do offer solutions for stub masts on top of buildings. These masts might be six or seven metres high and we supply safety systems for those type of installations too. We also offer a range of solutions that can be fitted to ladder arrangements. 

Alastair Hogg, Director of Fall Protection Sales and Business Development, International, MSA:

Street poles are often accessed by mobile elevated work platforms. We provide a full range of PPE products for the worker in the basket at that height. What’s unique about MSA is that we never stop developing. We have a track record of developing with industry requirements, it’s an ongoing process. 

TowerXchange: Many tower owners and managed service providers are looking at using drones for mapping and inspection – can you talk about the impact this has had for teams working on towers?

Alastair Hogg, Director of Fall Protection Sales and Business Development, International, MSA:

I think the increasing use of technology in every aspect of work is fantastic. If it drives user safety, then more the better. We have seen some customers deploy drones to support the inspection of towers: when they develop a drone which can do maintenance that will be utopia. 

In our experience, drones work alongside physical inspections, both visual and tactile, and are an excellent tool to highlight preventative maintenance on towers to address issues early on before you get to a reactive maintained requirement. 

Tim Bissett, Technical Manager, Fall Protection, MSA:

We’ve always prescribed a ground inspection of our systems within our inspection instructions, you can carry out a lot of inspections without even having to climb the tower, whether by drone, helicopter or just using binoculars. We build in features to enable this, such as fluorescent energy absorbers which can show an overload on the system. This kind of visual inspection has always been a feature. Doing an inspection by drone is one thing, but tower owners still need to access a tower to fix it and that still needs to be done safely. 

TowerXchange: Can you give us some examples of your equipment in the field and how it’s making a difference?

Alastair Hogg, Director of Fall Protection Sales and Business Development, International, MSA:

Looking at telcos, most telecoms masts in the UK have a Latchways system on them. We were able to support in the UK at that early rollout phase with tailor-made solutions for different tower types, working with Vodafone, Hutchison, Orange and BT – they have all used Latchways systems since their towers were built in the 90s and have had a very good experience. We are also built into the network for Vodafone and Spark in New Zealand. In South Africa we work with Vodacom and thousands of their structures have Latchways systems on them, as do Eskom, the main power transmission company in South Africa. In India we are also suppling Indus, so we have a reference point in that part of the world as well. Latchways being acquired by MSA gives us the global infrastructure we need to provide customers with a worldwide solution. 

Our systems have helped to save many lives over the course of the years. We don’t get to hear about them all but we’ve had many emails and letters from people who’ve fallen when climbing but being attached to a Latchways system has prevented them from sustaining fatal injuries.

Leave a Reply