Brazil: nuts about safety
The Brazilian safety market is on the boil. In fact, business is so good that some companies can hardly meet demand. CHARLEEN CLARKE meets the captains of the industry in Säo Paulo, and discovers that Brazilians are nuts about safety …
Raul Casanova Junior, executive director of Brazil’s National Association of Manufacturers Material Safety and Protection (known as ANIMASEG), looks like the cat that has stolen the cream. He’s walking the media through the International Fair of Safety and Protection in Säo Paulo, and explaining how the exhibition has grown. “Ten years ago, the show ended here. You can see – there was a wall right here,” he says, pointing to the remnants of the aforementioned partition.
Twenty minutes later, we have reached another wall. “This is where the show ended five years ago,” he explains. “Now it ends over there,” Casanova notes, pointing way into the distance.
The success of the exhibition is tangible evidence of a market that has ballooned beyond belief. “There are now 1 000 safety companies in Brazil,” he tells SHEQ MANAGEMENT. His association represents only about 130 of those companies, although they account for 85 percent of the market. “The other companies are really small,” he explains.
All the big safety companies are eyeing Brazil, he notes. “Some of the major players have been here for some time. Take, for instance, 3M. They have been in Brazil for more than 60 years. They manufacture here and export all over the world,” he notes.
Other newcomers have entered the market of late – and several are now extremely prominent in this growing market. I wander over to the stand of Yorgos Ambiental, where I meet commercial manager, Denis Souza. He tells me that numerous big names – Honeywell and Du Pont for instance – have entered the Brazilian market. “In addition, there are lots of other new Brazilian companies that are active in the market. Yorgos Ambiental is one such company; we started five years ago,” he reveals. I can see by the size of the company’s stand that it’s doing well. Very well indeed.
Yorgos Ambiental services the Brazilian market only – its agencies include Honeywell, Ansell and Safetline.
Protective clothing is all over the show – Casanova explains that this is as a result of much stricter legislation in Brazil. He adds that the market itself is highly regulated. “Companies cannot just sell products; those products must be certified,” he explains.
Flavio Mendes de Assis, product manager (hearing, head, eye and face) at Honeywell Safety Products, concurs. “The standards here are very carefully controlled by the Ministry of Labour,” he tells SHEQ MANAGEMENT. “If we don’t have a certificate of approval for our products, we cannot sell them.”
Mendes de Assis describes the minimum safety standards in Brazil as “rigorous”. “One of our clients has more than 50 people working in the health and safety department!” he reveals.
He reckons that the Brazilian standards are based on international best practice. “We have technical committees – comprising manufacturers, distributors and PPE customers – and they ensure that the standards are continually improved.”
But what if companies disregard these standards, and buy PPE products that are not certified? “Oh that’s not a very good idea,” Mendes de Assis says. “The Ministry of Labour will fine the company, or can even close it down.”
These strict standards also apply to importers, such as the Chinese (who are highly evident at the exhibition). “Some of their products are not certified yet, but they will have to be certified before they start selling in this market,” Casanova says, adding that local manufacturers do enjoy some government protection in the form of punitive import duties.
Despite this, some Brazilian manufacturers are taking strain. “Cheap Chinese imports are a challenge for this industry; it is very difficult for us to compete,” Casanova reports.
It’s interesting to discover that, according to Casanova, there are three distinct safety levels in Brazil. “We have the big companies that stick to the law. Then there are the smaller companies, who lack knowledge. They know that safety is important, but just lack the know-how – and safety standards are compromised as a result. The third category involves the so-called illegal workers. These are people who are not registered with the government and who pay no tax. The cost of a worker in Brazil is very high, and it’s obviously cheaper for companies to employ illegal workers. The level of safety for them is extremely low. This is a huge problem in our country,” he reveals.
Paulo Marino, regional manager for portable instruments at MSA, concurs. “Latin America is a good place in which to do business right now – and Brazil especially. We are seeing massive demand – especially from the oil, gas and open-cast mining sectors,” he tells SHEQ MANAGEMENT.
MSA has been present in the Brazilian market since 1960, and it employs 450 people. The factory produces hard hats, as well as some components for masks. “All other products are sourced from MSA factories elsewhere, including the plant in South Africa, from which we source mining cap lamps,” says Marino.
He tells SHEQ MANAGEMENT that safety standards in Brazil are high. “When I started working in this industry, there was a complete lack of safety procedures. Now, because of the oil and gas industries, we have high standards – equivalent to Europe. Our safety levels have been enhanced because of the multinationals working here. Quite frankly, it makes financial sense for the big companies to adopt better safety levels. If accidents happen or people become ill because of their jobs, this can result in stiff financial penalties,” Marino reveals.
Still, some companies or organisations still buy cheap – either because they don’t have the money or don’t want to spend the money. “For example the fire segment here in Brazil … Almost all the states are missing equipment or they have low-quality equipment because they don’t have money. That’s a big concern …” Marino notes.
CULTURE OF SAFETY NEEDED
Honeywell’s Mendes de Assis paints a similar picture. “We need to cultivate a culture of safety within end users and within the minds of employees. Some small companies within Brazil have a culture of safety; some big multinationals don’t … there is no hard and fast rule,” he comments.
Of course, while the products are sometimes available, employee buy-in doesn’t exist. “Sometimes PPE is not comfortable and they don’t like to use it. That’s our greatest challenge,”
Honeywell acquired the Brazilian company Sperian, in 2010. “The acquisition made Honeywell the biggest manufacturer of PPE in the world,” notes Mendes de Assis.
Gloves are the company’s biggest sellers; shoes occupy the number two position. Its UVEX eyewear range is also popular. And clearly business in Brazil is booming. “We cannot complain. The Brazilian economy is relatively strong and PPE is a fast-growing business – especially in Latin America. The Brazilian PPE market already accounts for about 50 percent of the total Latin America market,” he contends.
Jorge Smilgys, director of Safetline and president of ANIMASEG, is also pleased as Punch at developments in the local market. “In recent years this market has grown seven to 10 percent more than GDP. In the last two years this market has grown by 21 percent,” he tells SHEQ MANAGEMENT.
Smilgys attributes the growth to legislation and a change in culture. “Some companies are buying safety products because of legislation. However, many of the big companies realise that it is an advantage to provide safety for the employees,” he maintains.
Safetline is a manufacturer of safety boots, and it was established back in 1970. “Initially we were distributors of safety equipment in general. Now we only produce and sell safety boots,” he relates.
While the company has evolved, so too has the market. “When the business started, there were no laws and no demand from the market, but the safety market per se has only sky rocketed of late. Workplace safety in Brazil is still in its beginning stage; it is still relatively new …” he comments.
Like MSA’s Marino, Smilgys believes that strict financial penalties have bolstered the market. Brazilian companies that experience more accidents pay more taxes – this was introduced five years ago,” he reveals. “Companies can easily pay two to three percent more tax if lots of accidents occur.”
This hardly ever happens within the mining industry. “They are investing heavily in safety in this country and they have an excellent reputation. Construction is the worrying sector,” he believes.
Eduardo Keiner, technical and sales coordinator at Hercules, disagrees. “We do have concerns about construction companies buying low-quality equipment. The construction workers may not have much education but they know when they receive bad quality equipment. They just toss it; they reckon it’s not worth wearing,” he reveals.
But, having said that, things have improved; “Daily deaths were common when we started trading. Today, if there is one fatal accident per week in construction, it is considered high. In the old days 30 deaths a day were possible,” he reveals.
Hercules was founded in 1982 in Brazil. “We produce fire-fighting equipment – helmets, clothes, boots – and equipment for working at height,” he tells SHEQ MANAGEMENT. Like many other Brazilian companies, Hercules focuses on the domestic market. “At this stage we are only selling within South America. We are very happy with this market,” Keiner reveals.
But, while Brazilian companies appear to be cracking the champagne all round, Casanova warns that the bubble could burst (pardon the champagne and bubbly analogy …) “Brazilian producers of safety equipment have a lot going for them – they are able to offer a good mix of quality and price. And yes, the Brazilian market is currently large enough to sustain our members. But we cannot live like that forever …” he believes.
Bearing this in mind, ANIMASEG is eagerly eyeing other markets – such as South Africa.
So, don’t be surprised if we suddenly see a plethora of safety products from Brazil arrive here. Not today. Not tomorrow. But sometime in the future – when the Brazilian market cannot sustain those 1 000 companies.