Tuesday. 28.03.2023

Once upon a time Finland was a leader in protective gear production

A few years ago, the Finnish company Kemira Safety closed its plant in Vaasa and transferred the production of protective equipment to another factory in England.

After the Center for Security Supply’s failure to find correct protective masks, some people remembered the old good days. When Finland was a leader of the protective gear in Europe. If the Kemira Safety factory in Vaasa had not been sold, the days of the coronavirus epidemic (koronaviruses, in Finnish) would probably have been different.

Kemira's story began in the 1920s with the production of sulfuric acid for the state. The company initially focused on supplying chemicals needed for industry, mining and fertilizer production.

The company started producing protective gear for the armed forces after the outbreak of the Winter War in 1939. Its subsidiary Kemira Safety Oy was established in 1993. 

The business was going well and the benefits were considerable. The 1999 Annual Report shows that Kemira Safety had net sales of 14.2 million euros and operating profit of 0.9 million euros. Sales of military equipment had decreased, but those of respirators for occupational safety and health had been increasing for a long time.

Sold to Scott technologies in 2000

Kemira decided to sell its profitable subsidiary in 2000 and transfer it to Scott Technologies.

At that time, Kalle Suominen was the CEO of Kemira Safety. He talked to Ihtaletti and said, “It was a group's decision to focus on core business. There was nothing strange about it. The quality of the products was top."

The company continued to operate in Finland until 2012, when Scott Health & Safety Oy sent an invitation to its one hundred employees to negotiate their future.

Formally, it was a matter of reorganizing European operations and assessing competitiveness. It sounded like the closure of the Finnish factory and the relocation of production to a cheaper country, even though the factory was profitable. That, in turn, seemed to maximize investor profits. 

Lost know-how

Finally, the production was transferred to another plant of Scott in England and the plant was closed in 2015. And now, five years later, came the coronavirus crisis, with the subsequent lack of equipment in Finnish hospitals.

“The annoying thing is that the know-how in the field completely disappeared from Finland. It is then reflected here in this uncertainty. The protectors we manufactured would have worked in hospitals,” said Suominen.

Kari Leivo, who was Scott's manager for Finland, said the coronavirus crisis made him wonder what the situation would be if the Vaasa plant were still operational.

He thinks Finland would have been able to produce the equipment that would have made it easier to deal with the epidemic. At least some amounts.

Once upon a time Finland was a leader in protective gear production