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MINNEAPOLIS (TNS) — 3M workers around the world are wowing companies and crowds at conventions by rappelling down buildings, oil rigs and ceilings.

It’s all part of the company’s safety-education efforts that have caught the eye of regulators as well as customers.

“We don’t want to drop off our equipment with (customers) and just say, ‘Well, good luck,’” said Don Garvey, a 3M personal safety division technical service specialist. “The end product is not the ear plugs or safety goggles (or harnesses) we sell. It’s that people get to go home at night with all 10 fingers and toes.”

3M, headquartered in suburban Minneapolis, now has a 48-foot safety trailer and crew that spearheads the global training effort, one that has intensified since the acquisition of Twin Cities neighbor Capital Safety 19 months ago for $2.5 billion, the largest in 3M’s fabled history.

“Purchasing Capital Safety has definitely made 3M a major, major player in fall safety protection,” said Lydia Baugh, spokeswoman for the International Safety Equipment Association. 

This month, 3M announced its safety protection unit will become even bigger with the acquisition of Scott Safety for $2 billion. The purchase, 3M’s second-largest ever, is expected to close before the end of the year and will make it the largest in the fragmented $43 billion industry that also includes Honeywell/Miller, MSA Safety, FallTech and Sellstrom Manufacturing.

Scott specializes in firefighting equipment, especially breathing apparatus and gas detection equipment.

The Capital Safety purchase increased 3M’s portfolio of hard hats, earplugs, respirators and goggles by 20,000 products, including harnesses and other fall protection. It now is growing the division through its research arm, launching 100 new worker-protection products and enhancements in the last year and a half. Those include a new “self rescue” zip line to use with harnesses, and a new harness that redistributes body weight so there’s less wear on the shoulders and back.

Beyond U.S. factories and construction sites, 3M workers are teaching safety on Middle Eastern oil rigs and windmills in Virginia.

3M trained and provided equipment to the construction crews that built the new Detroit Red Wings’ $733 million hockey arena, the $700 million State Farm regional headquarters in Tempe, Ariz., and the $400 million Wells Fargo Towers in downtown Minneapolis. 

It trained more than 1,200 employees and subcontractors working on a Ryan Cos. project in Tempe in a single day, said John Gaddini, Ryan’s regional safety director.

The training was free because Ryan Cos. was already a customer. Gaddini estimates it would have cost $50,000 if 3M did not provide it.

“That trailer is a fantastic training tool. … I was just in awe with everything that is contained inside the trailer,” said Tyrone Taylor, Minnesota OSHA director of workplace safety consultation. “They are doing a great service to the construction industry with this trailer and all the safety training they do. It’s much needed, very beneficial and a new way to do hands-on training.”

Workplace falls accounted for 13 deaths and 950 injuries across Minnesota during the last fiscal year.

3M officials believe the new safety outreach may lower customers’ workplace accidents while simultaneously boosting sales. If successful, it will help increase 3M’s $5.7 billion safety and graphics business by 1 to 3 percent a year between now and 2020, officials said.

Matt Arnold, an equity research analyst for Edward Jones, said buying Capital Safety gave 3M potential “cyclical” and “international” opportunities.

If U.S. infrastructure spending increases as expected and if developing nations begin adopting U.S.-style safety standards on their construction sites, 3M “will optimize market share in this business over time,” Arnold said.

The Capital Safety purchase filled in the gaps in 3M’s worker safety portfolio, said Sanjiv Bhaskar, research vice president for Frost & Sullivan. Now, 3M is poised to take its new fall-protection know-how to create new products, Bhaskar said. “They constantly have to come up with new products and innovations that others don’t have.”

Bhaskar noted that 3M’s pending purchase of Scott Safety from Johnson Controls “propels 3M into the No. 1 spot for personal protection equipment. It will help them tremendously,” Bhaskar said, noting that the two additions alone will add $1 billion in revenue to 3M.

Right now, 3M is focused on new products, said Garvey, the safety division specialist, and Nikki McCullough, 3M’s global personal safety technical and regulatory manager, as they unveiled a lab table strewn with 3M’s latest product introductions inside the 3M Safety Lab.

McCullough carefully unwrapped 3M’s first Scotchgard-coated safety goggles, which don’t fog up, but are still flexible and bend into the face to shield from construction dust. She also showed off a respirator mask with long clear tubes that allow sand blasters and welders to measure the air quality inside and outside the mask.

Such measuring tools eliminate guesses about the effectiveness of the equipment, Garvey said. Another such product is a white hard hat with an “ultraviolet indicator” that shows when the plastic has started to wear down and the hat needs to be replaced.

The goal is to give workers their own tools that “add a greater level of protection,” Garvey said as he next helped Steve Kosch — 3M’s global product manager for fall protection and confined space protection — buckle into another of 3M’s new products.

The Exofit Strata harness more evenly distributes Kosch’s weight, taking it off his shoulders and to his hips and legs. The Exofit hit the market a year ago, Kosch said.

3M’s new self-rescue zip line pack launched in April. They sell for about $540 each and are pulling orders from U.S. employers building skyrises, stadiums, windmills and oil rigs.

Each self-rescue pack offers 100 to 200 feet of spooled cable so a stuck window washer, crane operator or telephone pole worker can pull a release cord and slowly zip line to safety. Both products are made in 3M’s fall protection plant in Red Wing, Minn.

The self-rescue pack “lets you get down all by yourself in seconds without having to wait for an emergency crew,” especially important for utility or maintenance workers who might be working alone, said Jordan DeJong, a safety specialist, during a session at 3M’s Red Wing training center.

This month, DeJong, with Capital Safety/3M for four years, was at an ammunitions plant in Radford, Va. Next month, 3M will take the products to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where workers will be jumping off oil rigs to train customers.

Ryan’s Gaddini said he’ll be placing a product order soon, and he’s looking at the zip line pack as one protection in case of a “worst-case scenario.”

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