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Get to know Michael Gray

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What was the biggest challenge for Organisations in the early 1990’s?

In the 1980’s if industry had a fume problem, it was reported to a Health Inspector who worked with a government scientist to monitor the fume levels, often at no cost to the client. In 1992 ‘user pays’ and the HSE Act began to change that with an increased expectation that organisations would take a more direct role in managing their Health and Safety needs. Back then there were few scientific companies able to assist with this work.

Why did you start Chemsafety?

Although with the new HSE Act and ‘user pays’ Government Research Organisations were still providing scientific services to industry, they were at that time not well geared to provide small one-of jobs to industry.  In many cases smaller private scientific service companies were better placed to compete with the existing research institutes by meeting clients technical needs while remaining within financial constraints. This was what lead to the formation of Chemsafety in October 1992.

What was your first job, and what technology did you use?

 My first job was at the Department of Social Welfare office in Christchurch. This involved 24-hour datalogging temperature, relative humidity and carbon dioxide levels throughout the building. Combined with bacteria and fungi monitoring and air flow measurements I was able to provide a report on the indoor air quality for the building.

How has the business changed since the beginning?

There were few air test methods in the beginning and no internet for help. Developing these methods and undertaking our own analysis relied in a strong chemical knowledge. I set up in my garage a chemistry laboratory with wet chemistry and gas chromatograph capabilities, and later HPLC for phenol, formaldehyde and glutaraldehyde analysis. This allowed me to adapt testing methods and do my own analysis. Now days standard test methods are available and used.

What are you most proud of?

In 2013, we entered the Deloitte’s fast 50, we placed 20th as the fastest growing business nationally. The following year we placed 11th and were the fastest growing mature business. This supassed anything I could have dreamed of 21 years earlier when founding the company, and I found it quite emotional.

In 2013 & 2016 long term employees, Janet, Bridgette and Paul, bought into the business as Directors and Shareholders to ensure the Company had a succession plan and would survive long into the future.

 I am not sure which of the above I am most proud of.

Where do you see Chemsafety in 10 years?

I could see branches in each large city, providing a local service nationally. However life balance has always been valued within Chemsafety, and we are already large enough to provide a sustainable national service to all branches of our multi-branch clients. Where we end up will depend on the life balance desires of future management teams and the needs of our clients.

What’s your favourite customer story, how you improved the health of their people.

A plastics factory called me to measure fume from a bag sealing and folding machine. I could see that some small modifications to their extraction system could vastly improve fume containment, so using some old cardboard, tape, a Stanley knife and some smoke tubes, I observed air flows and made a few modifications. The clients engineers were then to replace the cardboard with Perspex, providing a cheap solution to the fume problem. Often an outside eye can see where small modifications can make big gains, and it is always a thrill to be involved in these investigations.

Where’s your favourite place to holiday in NZ?

Any isolated lake or riverbank that has fantastic views, cooperative trout, and space for me to park the campervan. Lake Opuha, Brunner, and Mahinapua are favourites. Sailing the outer Marlborough sounds also takes some beating.