Getting to know you: Helen McCabe

What do you currently do?

I’m a director at Harrier UK. We offer SMEs a wide range of health and safety support, from strategic to operational. We help businesses develop safe practices, stay compliant with the latest regulations and keep their employees safe.

We also specialise in event safety, this month it has meant being responsible for Bruce Springsteen, Kasabian and Rhianna concerts, however, you’ll often find us in charge of big sporting events too. For example, we recently won an International Safety Award from the British Safety Council for our work at the World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan. Our work at events means we work with organisers to ensure that the events which so many people love to attend are safe; we also work with emergency services and local authorities to make sure all eventualities are covered.

What was the inspiration behind your business?                     

We are passionate about a common sense approach to health and safety. There are so many bad examples of organisations applying health and safety procedures in a completely unrealistic, often ridiculous, manner and using health and safety as an excuse to the wider world not to do something. For us, health and safety is about keeping people safe, not introducing unnecessary restrictions and costs. This is the passion behind our business and it applies whether we are responsible for the health and safety of tens of thousands or just a handful of people.

If health and safety is undertaken properly, you don’t really notice the amount of H&S work that goes on behind the scenes, and the vision of what you want to do and how you want your business to operate is not significantly affected. We are practical and pragmatic in our approach, which fits perfectly into the way that most SMEs operate. We also enjoy surprising people – when businesses find out that we’re not the run-of-the-mill health and safety advisors and really warm to our approach, it’s pretty rewarding!

Who do you admire?

Business people who make their employees feel valued and genuinely care for their customers.  I used to work for Marriott Hotels and despite being a large global brand, employees were made to feel the customer was the most important element and that we had the ability to go the extra mile to make their stay or event special.  Employees were also given credit for a range of achievements from financial results to customer service and charity work.

I also really admire the team at Rainbows Children’s Hospice in Loughborough, who Harrier has worked with for several years. They work with families who have sick children in the East Midlands, supporting the child and the extended family. I have a lot of time for all business leaders who encourage their employees to give their backing to any charity in a meaningful and fun way.

Looking back, is there anything that you would have done differently?

I would definitely have aimed higher. In the beginning we talked ourselves out of applying for some of the bigger tenders as we were a small business, assuming we couldn’t compete.  Having now worked on some fantastic projects, from the Papal visit to Westminster Abbey to the Olympics, and with many more in the pipeline, we have shown we can deliver excellent service and value for money and I wish we’d had the confidence to do so earlier.

What defines your way of business? 

It sounds a bit cheesy but we always say: “It is not what we do, it is why we do it.” To lead health and safety within a company, we focus employees and managers on the moral reasons for keeping people safe (the why), while of course checking this against their financial and legal obligations (the what).

There is less resistance to change when we can show people that the reason we are passionate about implementing good health and safety practices is to keep them safe and not just tick a box.  Telling people to wear a hard hat in a field with nothing above them can make health and safety seem a bit of a joke – but keep it logical and justifiable and you will get people to agree with you.  I tend to say “you should” rather than “you have to” and back it up with the reality of what not doing something will mean.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting out?

Take the time to ensure you have the best people you can to work in your business. This should not be based on cost but more on working with people who share your passion for what they do and care about making your business succeed, rather than just putting in the invoice.

I would also say: know when to bring people in to assist with your business. It is difficult to know where to spend your money when you are starting up, focus on what will bring you the results that you want. A well-placed article written by someone else could get you more publicity and allow you to teach people about your business and a decent website is your opportunity to showcase your business and its brand, an ineffective window to your firm will mean your bottom line will lose out in the long term. If you need specialist help, commission it.

Lastly, plan as if you were already super successful. In relation to health and safety, many people struggle to put into place the necessary policies and procedures when they are experiencing a growth spurt; put them in place early and they become part of the building blocks for your business and it will make it easier to grow.