Key Accounts Director, Informa

Author Bio ▼

Angela Coffill has been working within our health and safety portfolio for several years and has developed a passion for the sector. She has extensive exhibition and digital advertising knowledge with more than a decade’s experience in the media industries.
May 12, 2023

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Angela Asks: Kevin Barr, Head of HSEQ at Group Metropolitan

The return of an old interview series, in which I catch up with people who take part in Safety & Health Expo in London.

In this interview I speak to Kevin Barr from Group Metropolitan about his role as head of HSEQ and his reasons for attending our event. He paints a concerning picture about workload in the construction sector and tells me why there’s such an important focus on stress management within Group Metropolitan.

Kevin manages a team of health and safety advisors at an organisation that brings together a main contractor management offering with in-house trade packages in a one turnkey fit out solution. Essentially that means they’ll do anything and everything within the fit out space within construction. Kevin key focus areas are cultural improvement and systems management.

Kevin Barr, Head of HSEQ at Group Metropolitan

Angela Coffill (AC): What’s been your biggest challenge over the past 12 months?

Kevin Barr (KB): The employment market has been the single biggest problem for me as a team leader. It’s so difficult to find talented workers, and not even just for my own team, but in the construction industry.  There are not enough people for the amount work in the industry and it is leading to an increase in fatigue and stress.

For most companies in the construction sector, working time regulations are being thrown out of the window. It’s 12-hour days, seven days a week, every single day.  People need to be forced to take their holidays because they feel guilty being on leave knowing how much work needs to be done. And when they’re not at work they are adding the stress and workloads onto the next person holding down the fort. This can lead to a high level of burnout within the industry. In the long term it’s going to lead to a lot more mental health issues. And physical health issues from people not getting enough rest, not getting that chance to recharge.

And it really all does boil down to just employment. There’s just more work than there are people to do the work.

At Group Metropolitan we focus on this a lot and will turn down profitable work if it’s not sustainable for employees. Ensuring we do the right work, for the right clients, at the right price.

AC: Where do you predict things will be in the next 5 years?

KB: I don’t think the problems we’re facing now will be resolved in 5 years’ time. I am always hopeful that it will but unless something drastic changes, this isn’t a problem that will go away on its own.

Something else we should focus on, looking forward is the coming wave of AI and what that means to everything, but especially our profession.  For example, when I ask ChatGPT to write me an entire procedural policy – it writes the policy.   I don’t think I can predict where technology like this will end up in 5 years but it’s definitely something we need to keep an eye on and monitor how it evolves.

I know there is a lot of talk around this subject and personally I think AI is the next revolution coming to the workplace. Up there with the internet and mobile phones. I cannot wait to see what we as an industry choose to do with it.

AC: How does Safety & Health Expo support you in your role? 

KB: I love walking around and seeing the different things that are new, innovative and available now. I find the best innovations at the Safety &Health Expo in London that I don’t tend to see at other events in the UK.

I love seeing products that I can interactive with – last year there were some great products around health monitoring and demonstrations of VR Technology. And of course, all the CPD sessions, the most memorable speaker for me being Louis Theroux!

I also really enjoy the networking aspect of the event. The Shirley Parsons Networking Café is a great hub to meet old and new people, and of course the events such as your Rising Star event, that was great!  I always try to spend the full 3 days at the event in London when I can and it’s such a valuable use of my time in terms of development and keeping up to date with the industry.

AC: What’s the decision-making process if you need to invest in something to manage risk within your organisation?

KB: In our business, I would be the ‘seeker’.  If I come across problems I go out and look for solutions; many of which have come from people I have met at the Expo funnily enough!

I will gather all the information I need to present it to our senior team.  If, as a business we are interested in investing an area of improvement, I’ll research similar products to identify the best version which suits our needs.

I don’t have a budget – health and safety doesn’t have a budget but we do have an open budget for improvements.  And it’s up to me to identify the areas of improvements and pitch the products needed to the board.  I met one of our recent suppliers at the Expo last year, and although we were already quite confident of our needs, the Expo allowed us the time to meet face to face and finalise the sale.

AC: What products will you be looking for when you visit this May?

KB: I’m always looking for two things. Firstly, physical hardware that keeps people safe, and secondly technology. I’m after next generation technology that’s affordable.

I went to the HSE Congress last year and it was amazing.  The technology was incredible, but it was so far in the future.  It was great to see, and it was great to know that it exists and be impressed by it. But I would never purchase it because we’re not on that level.  I also love surprises, and I’m always surprised at some of the amazing products available at Safety & Health Expo.

AC: You’ve been attending the event for several years now, tell me the most memorable experience you’ve had over the years.

KB: I think it was during the SHP Rising Stars Awards, there were a group of CEO’s having a discussion around a large table – And John Kersey just brought me over and invited me to sit down and join them.  It was such a great opportunity to speak with these CEO’s and ask them questions about health and safety – and it’s things like this that really stand out to me at your event.  It was such an amazing experience that I wouldn’t have had, had I not attended – and it felt very exclusive!

AC: What’s your one piece of advice for other professionals who are planning to visit the event for the first time this May?

KB: Just get stuck in. If you’ve never been to one of these Expos, that can be a bit overwhelming. It’s loud, it’s big. There’s a lot of things happening. There are so many amazing things going on, definitely plan to go for at least 2, or if you can, the 3 days.  Go to the Shirley Parsons Networking Forum.  Some people can be shy about just going up to people or getting involved in conversations or try finding someone who’s sitting on their own – but this is why they are there.  This is the purpose of the place.

And I will be there so they can always talk to me!

Safety & Health Expo takes place 16-18 May at the ExCel, London. Register for your free ticket here.


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