AT 75 years of age, Paul Horan might not be your archetypal tech entrepreneur.
But decades of life experience – some of it bitter and tragic – have fuelled the Lancastrian’s passion to use technology to help businesses make the world a safer place.
His product, Cracker123, allows companies to build health and safety policy to international standards, carry out and monitor fire or risk assessments and create accident reports online.
Horan has used his 18 years as a health and safety consultant to make the process quick and easy for users by compiling a set of standard questions for them to answer to complete each document.
“You can do a risk assessment in a matter of minutes and the way I’ve designed the system means an employer is assured of consistency, wherever in the world the employee is carrying it out, regardless of the quality of that employee.”
Health and safety legislation might be a regular punchbag of newspaper columnists but Horan understands its importance from bitter experience.
At age three he lost his father, a construction worker, who was crushed to death when a truck he was riding on overturned and shed its load of bricks onto him.
Then in his 20s, while serving on HMS London in Bangkok, Horan lost a shipmate – Able Seaman Charles Dade – to another workplace accident.
“We were over the side. He was rigging an awning [to shade the deck] and I was touching up an anchor in preparation for a visit from the King and Queen of Thailand,” says Horan. “We didn’t have lifelines or anything and he was killed outright when he slipped and hit his head on the jetty.
“I could have known him for another 50 years if there had been proper safety precautions. A lot of health and safety rules come about because of incidents like this. It’s not about being pansies.”
Later, while a ships navigator on Esso oil tankers, he experienced fires on board and was once covered in crude oil when a high-pressure pipeline came erupted under pressure.
“It was down to a simple lack of concentration,” he says. “Proper safety procedures would have prevented that.
“It was these experiences that made me go down the health and safety route.”
After running various businesses, and lobbying for the licensed trades as a Federation of Small Businesses policy specialist, Horan spotted an opportunity in the introduction of a swathe of new workplace safety regulations from the late-1990s.
As a consultant, based in Stockport, he’s helped scores of companies navigate their new responsibilities towards managing risk and keeping accurate records.
Meeting these responsibilities will soon be essential to obtaining the International Organization for Standardization’s new ISO45001 mark, being developed by in response to the estimated 7,600 deaths from work-related accidents around the world every day.
With Cracker123, Horan believes he holds a key to more British SMEs winning overseas contracts by preparing themselves ahead of assessment against the standard.
“If you don’t have the new standard, you might as well not bother bidding for tenders,” he says. “Major contractors working in, say, the Middle East or in Africa will demand you have your health and safety procedures right because they don’t want to be held liable for something going wrong.”
With this in mind Horan has relaunched his freemium model service, which can also look after HR records and translate into selected international languages.
And he’s also targeting international companies with the service, in particular Chinese firms working overseas, having met delegations from the country while manning a stand at the 2016 International Business Festival.
“It was a fantastic platform for the company to make connections and raise awareness of the business and our services.
“We’ve translated the forms into mandarin, so they can be filled in by Chinese nationals and then automatically translated into English,” says Horan. “The international language of business is English, so even European firms who want to deal with a Chinese business in Africa can take advantage of this translation.”
Horan built bridges with Chinese companies after joining a Lancaster University programme as part of a deal which was struck at the Festival two years ago. Since the Festival he has made two extensive market visits to China.
“The experience has given me a much better insight into this world. And it’s the connections I made at the Festival that led me to embark on a programme of research building up to this relaunch, which has left the product in a much better place.”
Up to 100 exhibitors will showcase goods, services, projects and regional market opportunities to delegates such as buyers, investors and academics in the international marketplace on each day of the International Business Festival. Find out more via the Festival website.