I spent the last three days wandering through the halls of the fairgrounds in Düsseldorf, Germany attending the bi-annual A+A tradeshow and conference. This is far and away the biggest safety show in the world.

To give an idea of its size, 70,000 people attend over the four days. The show is spread over 10 buildings each one of which seems as big as the entire conference hall for typical North American safety shows.

Martor, a company that makes safety knives has a booth roughly the size of the biggest players at a show such as NSC, and larger than any we see in Canada.

safety booths

What follows are some random thoughts and observations taken from what I saw and experienced.

On a macro level, doing business in Europe is much more focused on relationships. Some of the larger booths feel more like a lounge than simply a display of the company’s wares. Most smaller booth still have a table and chairs where you can sit down and enjoy a coffee, glass of water or beer and some snacks while you discuss mutual opportunities. The bigger companies have dozens of people milling about ready to help and in search of their customers.

I am always amazed at the sheer number of European companies offering safety products. We have seen tremendous consolidation of our industry in North America around a small number of very large conglomerates. That seems to be less true in Europe where each country retains multiple national champions. I think some of this is also regulatory-driven as the cost of achieving CE certification is far less than what is required for CSA, UL, NIOSH, and so on. The net result is a bewildering choice of products and suppliers.

booth at A+A that showcases the variety of colours in european safety apparel

Europe has always been much more fashion-forward and it shows in the amount of space and a huge variety of workwear on offer. This is not the land of blue or orange coveralls! You will find a dizzying array of fabrics, natural and man-made in every colour of the rainbow. Safety clothing is not there simply to protect, European companies want to project a brand image for both their consumers and to make employees proud of their employer. The show even runs a very professionally choreographed half-hour safety clothing fashion show four times a day.

Safety footwear is another area that gets far more emphasis at A+A than we would see in North America. There were hundreds of manufacturers from Europe and Asia. Are there really that many more people in Europe who wear safety footwear? What I did notice was that there was a lot of emphasis placed on comfort.

On the hand protection front, I saw less emphasis on leather and cotton gloves and continued growth of synthetics. Everybody seems to be jumping on the dorsal protection and mechanics glove bandwagons.

For a show of this size, there seemed to be less presence on the “software” front. There were a fair number of suppliers offering one version or another of remote worker communication and/or tracking. Compared to North America it seemed there were fewer software offerings and training and consulting companies.

A significant number of companies were touting the environmentally-friendly nature of their products, sourcing and manufacturing processes as well as corporate social responsibility.

Up to now, that has not seemed to be a significant factor in the buying decisions of customers in Canada or the United States. One wonders if and when that will change.

In my next blog, I will discuss a few of the manufacturers or products that caught my eye.

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Bruce Levitt


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