Sam Sherwood-Hale spoke to Sarah Sanderson, Tunnelling Product Specialist at Dräger Safety UK Ltd about medical and safety technology and how their products protect, support and save lives

SSH: What was the founding inspiration behind Dräger?
SS: Dräger are a leading manufacturer of both medical and safety technology products. In so doing, we protect, support, and save people’s lives around the world within hospitals, through fire departments, emergency services, authorities, and within both tunnelling and its associated industries.

Founded in 1889, Bernhard Dräger invented the Lubeca valve, ultimately resulting in the first high pressure controlled-release valves and closed-loop technologies being created. While first designed to release carbon-dioxide gas into beer taps, this technology developed to become a crucial component of medical and safety technologies in the many years that have followed.

In 1906, following a mining disaster, Mr Dräger travelled to France taking with him a Dräger breathing apparatus he had developed two years earlier. Its continued use gave rise to the term ‘Drägerman’ – given to a group of extraordinary men and women all across the world who have volunteered to be trained in mining/ underground rescue. Whilst the technology has of course been modernised over the years, the ethos of the business remains the same: to protect and save lives in challenging environments.

SSH: How long has your company been in business?
SS: Dräger has been synonymous with technology for life for more than 130 years. Protecting, supporting, and saving lives is a key part of our DNA. The company was founded in Lübeck in 1889, and is now in its fifth generation as a family-run business. From humble beginnings, the company now has over 16,000 employees across the globe and is present in over 190 countries.

SSH: What types of products and services do you offer?
SS: The products and services we offer are vast and encompass numerous different sectors. Within the fields of emergency response and personal safety technology, our products include gas detection devices, self-rescuers, breathing apparatus, thermal imaging cameras, mine refuge chambers, impairment monitoring and detection alongside assorted PPE solutions and ancillaries.

But with great products, you need great support; the Dräger Training Academy and Dräger Services teams are designed to enhance the efficiency of equipment, to consolidate best-practice and equip teams with industry-leading knowledge and experience to enable users to maintain and operate its technology for use in hazardous environments with minimised risk. Service agreements are also part of our offering, packages such as: TotalCare, PreventiveCare, ExtendedCare and PartnerCare are all available to our customers to ensure effective maintenance of equipment, extend manufacturer warranties and include provision of repair parts and labour, dependent on the level of care selected.

SSH: What are some major projects you’re currently working on?
SS: Several rail projects require, or have required, Dräger Safety equipment, utilising different products at different stages of the project timeline. Most recently, several stages of the HS2 project use the Dräger Oxy range of self-contained self-rescuers. These 30 minute and 60-minute devices provide additional options for the emergency planning concept and ensure the highest standard of breathing protection for personnel. Rescue trains are also in operation in Europe, across Switzerland and Germany to provide emergency aid for rail networks in the absence of road or air access through difficult and unpredictable terrain.

Speaking more broadly, most major projects, including rail, require some form of PPE. Examples of the Dräger PPE range include reusable and disposable suits, head protection, respiratory protection and safety eyewear, continuing to protect personnel in the harshest and most dangerous environments with the confidence that they are safe from harm.

Hazardous environments carry enough risk alone, so both Dräger Alcohol and Drug screening devices alongside Vehicle Immobilisers are used in a growing number of industries including many rail, transport and industrial applications, ensuring control of risk due to impairment.

SSH: What would you say is the most exciting technology in the industry?
SS: Whilst technology continues to advance at fast pace, real excitement has risen through the development of interconnected and multi-purpose emergency response systems that not only prevent dangerous incidents from taking place but also provide early identification.

Designed for long-duration deployment in hazardous environments, Dräger’s flagship Closed Circuit Beathing Apparatus (CCBA), the BG ProAir, prevents harmful substances and contaminants from entering the sealed breathing system. With the ability to allocate oxygen dosage according to your work rate and specific environment, rescue tactics can evolve according to the surrounding environment to further protect against danger. But where this technology is especially innovative, is in its ability to integrate with additional life-safety devices, and smart onboard electronics.

Hands-free thermal imaging cameras such as the UCF® FireCore added provide hands-free vision in low-visibility, unfamiliar terrain that tunnelling personnel may encounter. This  innovative product provides constant vision from a display screen within the Dräger full-face mask, meaning emergency and rescue teams have greater situationally awareness and an improved level of orientation.

SSH: What are some of the biggest challenges this sector currently faces?
SS: One of the biggest challenges within the tunnelling industry is that the numerous, on site, contractors and sub-contractors have different preferences between not only brands but also product types, a situation which can make safety planning and procurement particularly challenging. These challenges, however, are understandable, given the huge scale of certain projects.

The industry also suffers in the form of overlapping, or indeed underlapping guidelines and safety precautions that intersect with those found within the wider construction industry. Tunnelling often sits between the more stringent mining regulations and construction regulations in this regard. So, for example, a project manager working on a tunnelling project
may be from a construction rather than a mining background, and that can lead to inconsistencies in how underground safety is approached.

Whilst presenting significant difficulty to industry professionals, the answer to both challenges can be found through greater transparency and cross-company collaboration. We as an industry need to work together to ensure that safety planning is as straightforward as possible, and that procurement can be viewed holistically thereby reducing project timescales and
protecting industry personnel in the same breath.

SSH: How can we make tunnelling within the rail industry an environment people want to work in?
SS: Tunnelling environments can be extremely hazardous, with a variety of different machinery being used within a confined space, often at the same time. We regularly hear of global projects where stakeholders have been extremely relieved when there have been no major incidents after a year. The fact that these incidents are relatively common goes to show that serious accidents are not that rare, and safety equipment and planning should not be considered a ‘nice to have’ but deemed critical and essential.

Manufacturers hold responsibility to keep tunnelling personnel as safe as possible in the confines of such environments. Detailed safety and rescue strategies must be planned, coordinated, and agreed across all interest groups. These efforts must be made to increase the health, safety, and well-being of tunnelling professionals, to retain and indeed attract new staff in an industry with falling numbers.

If we can’t retain staff through feeling valued, safe, and healthy, the industry is failing in its mission.

SSH: In terms of technology, how do you anticipate things might change in the next five to ten years?
SS: Whilst technology develops at fast pace, we anticipate future focus to be built around information and data processing with interconnected functionality.

Knowledge, as the saying goes, is power and in an emergency, the quality of information received about an individual and the risks that they face can be the difference between life and death. By combining technologies, such as gas detection, SCBA/CCBA equipment and thermal imaging cameras with sufficient monitoring oversight, we can detect changes to a person, or their environment and adapt rescue or operational tactics to prevent potential dangers before they present worry.

Whilst Bluetooth® provides short-range connectivity to several products, the development of long-range transmitters would be revolutionary in the tunnelling and associated industries, providing the ability to enhance communicative channels, present clearer commands and provide sufficient oversight to keep individuals and teams safe from harm.