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Safety heroes – making the difference between health and harm

Heidi McCaffray joined Serco as an Antarctic Air Traffic Controller in 1999, after ten years in the US Navy. Since then, Heidi has built a career as a Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) specialist – travelling the globe, gaining experience and growing an international network of Serco colleagues that includes friends and family. 

Today, Heidi leads on HSE for our Systems Integration & Installation (SI2) business in North America, where we support the US Navy in modernising their vessels and facilities around the world – helping them stay fully effective against twenty-first century threats. 

Heidi and her team ensure our frontline colleagues have the right knowledge, equipment and mindset to keep themselves and others safe in some very dynamic environments. At the same time, she focuses on enabling them to speak up with any concerns or ideas. 

“Our ultimate goal,” she explains, “is to make sure everyone has a voice, and that everyone goes home safe.” 

No small feat, given that our SI2 colleagues do some of the most physically demanding, complex work in some of the most unforgiving conditions: 

“They could be in Djibouti one week and Alaska the next – extremes of hot and cold that push people to their limits. They might be squeezed inside an impossible space or suspended hundreds of feet in the air, lifting heavy loads, working with hazardous chemicals, operating complicated machinery – so much of what they do is extremely dangerous.” 

Staying safe is just as demanding as the work itself: 

“You’re operating a press brake as big as a cab, then a drill no bigger than your finger, and they have totally different safety regs. For example: eye protection changes from one job to the next – it’s not the same goggles for everything. Our people need to be able to shift seamlessly from one set of requirements to another and back again.” 

Heidi has plenty of first-hand experience, even in her current role: 

“I’m a tower instructor, so you’ll find me with our teams – maybe in Bahrain, maybe Japan – high up in the air, running a rescue simulation. It’s my favourite part of the job.” 

But knowing what to do and how to do it isn’t enough. State of mind is critical: 

“Every day, our teams assemble to review the work ahead and talk safety. You’ve got to be 100% present, put everything else aside, make eye contact, pay attention – and if your gut says ‘something ain’t right’, go with it. In that moment, I once recognised a teammate exhibiting stroke symptoms. We stopped work, got him to hospital and saved his life.” 

Serco’s commitment to Zero Harm resonates strongly, and Heidi, proud of the progress already made, considers communication and engagement among her most important tools: 

“We’re always introducing new ways to keep safety fresh and alive and always on the radar. And not from a distance – we’re out in the field, interacting with our teams, listening and letting them know we support them. They’re very responsive.” 

One of the biggest challenges is effecting a cultural change: 

“Everyone wants to ‘get it done’ and outperform. Nobody wants to be the one who caused a delay. Driving hard for productivity is perfectly natural, but it can blind us to risk and open doors to error. For us, taking safety seriously is a sign of strength, not weakness. We value the courage to put safety first, and we celebrate it. In our ‘Safety Star’ program, managers can reward any positive safety behaviour there and then. Accidents can happen in an instant, but so can safety and so too should recognition of doing the right thing. These are tough decisions, but they’re the right decisions and we will do what it takes – from calling a ‘time out’ to temporarily shutting down a facility – to make the difference between health and harm.”