Ian talks to Martyn Lyons about Process Safety Management
Martyn had a long and varied 33-year career with Inter Terminals performing a number of different roles with the Company and for his last 6 years was CEO. He was a major part of the team which grew the Business from a 6 terminal, UK only operation, to one of the largest tank storage Businesses in Europe, comprising 23 terminals totalling 6 million cubic metres, across 6 different Countries. At the forefront of a highly successful and profitable operation was a visible commitment to managing risk and improving personal and process safety. Martyn represented the Tank Storage Association and the tank storage industry on the Buncefield Standards Task Group and also the Process Safety Leadership Group, set up as a joint industry and Regulator working group, following the Buncefield fire and explosion in December 2005.
Martyn, thank you ever so much for taking some time out to share some insights and some views on process safety. We shared an interesting journey to unite industry and regulators to make sure the lessons from Buncefield were learned and implemented. So, what was your route to a career engrained in risk management?Martyn
I spent 33 years in the tank storage industry, all with one company, albeit with various changes of ownership and changes of name along the way. I joined what was Simon Storage in March 1988, as an assistant manager in the operations department on Teesside, having just left the merchant navy, where I was a Chief Engineer. I was getting a bit fed up with the sea life, and looking for something else when the position just popped up. I thought, I'll give this a go, not knowing much about tank storage. The company was undergoing a revolution in terms of recruiting more talented and competent people across the organization and improving asset integrity and safety. In 1988, we hadn't heard of process safety but we recognised we were having not just personal safety incidents, but what we now know to be process safety incidents, and too many of them.
When I first joined the Company, I found myself as part of the team running this fairly big, multi-product, high-hazard terminal with virtually no written procedures in place. The terminal stored some very toxic, flammable and carcinogenic products. I thought I can go one of two ways, either run away fast or get stuck in. Because there was little in place, I had a blank canvas to build up a systematic approach to risk management. I remember talking to the engineer in charge of tank inspections. I asked him ‘How do you ensure the integrity of the most significant asset on the terminal, the tanks? He replied, ‘Well, we wash out the tanks and perform a visual examination from the floor of the tank. I look up at the roof and if I can't see any daylight it’s alright. We give it a sweep, it might need a shot blast, if there's no rust or scale on the floor its fine’. We had a lot of good intent, but quite haphazard repairs being carried out to ensure the ongoing integrity. We didn’t have a documented tank inspection procedure, so I wrote the first one.
That was quite an innovative challenge to take on. What else did you realise about risk management in high-hazard terminals where it's not just about storing liquids, but about storing things safely?Martyn
I'd come from the disciplined environment of the merchant navy, with quite high levels of automation in place. To discover that there was no automated control of product movement and storage was quite a shock. I remember that there was there was an old panel in the control room that people very rarely looked at. I was told not to worry about that as it didn’t really work very well.Ian
How did you manage safety like that?Martyn
Tank over fills were quite a routine occurrence because there were no procedures for topping off the tank, no independent high-level alarms, very old gauging systems that were often unreliable and certainly weren't linked to an alarm system. Spillages were very common and leaks from the tanks, pipelines pumps, relatively common.Ian
Was there any interest from your clients about how you stored their products and how safe you were?Martyn
There was little engagement from commodity trading companies they just bought and sold commodities, any problems they would simply raise a claim. Our oil industry and chemical industry customers were more active with third party audits and regular inspections. We deliberately wanted to improve our reputation, with our customers, with the industry and with regulators. We didn't want to continue having incidents, hurting people and hurting the environment. That was the start of a fairly long road of improvement, with people and culture right at the very heart of that. You can't improve personal and process safety without people wanting those improvements and without the right culture in place. You can't do safety to people, you have to do it with them.
Many of the Company’s tank storage terminals operated around the clock and for 16 hours of the day it’s the shift supervisor in charge. We empowered them with the authority to make the right decisions. I remember arriving at a terminal for a quarterly safety meeting and being absolutely amazed that the room was full of people, even those who weren’t on shift, who were meant to be at home resting. For me, that was a very good example of how a terminal belonged to people who wanted to have a good operation and go home safely at the end of the day.
What were the lessons from this journey of risk improvement?Martyn
We set about trying to proceduralise safety and operations. We introduced quality management following ISO 9001 and filled our shelves with files and procedures, but who actually reads these? We had paper-based safety by having and procedures, which you could then use as a stick to threaten non-compliance. Then we changed tack, to instead enshrine basic operational and safety principles that must apply to every terminal in the group. Each terminal was built differently and operated by different people, and so we allowed a degree of flexibility in how terminals developed their own procedures to meet the principles. We elevated talented people above the day-to-operation of the terminals to form a core independent safety and environmental compliance and advisory team. They carried out annual auditing, independent incident investigations and were on hand for daily advice and guidance.
What differentiated us from other businesses was that we could demonstrate that we took pride in doing this properly. We won some significant commercial contracts, because we were able to demonstrate our competence in how to operate professionally and safely. So, working safely became our core value to being successful in business.
Who inspired you in this journey?Martyn
The opportunity that I had following the 2005 Buncefield terminal fire and explosion was a life changing event for me because it gave me the opportunity to sit alongside some very talented people from whom I could learn a lot from and take that learning back into our business. The development of the ‘Principles of Process Safety Leadership’ was a world first and not just a ‘tick-box’ exercise but an approach which had to be at the heart of running a business.
We were the first people not just to say leadership is important but to develop and scope what to actually do in practice. This was a fantastic achievement. To stop a Buncefield type incident happening again, it's so important to keep process safety alive, because the risk never goes away. And just around the corner, is complacency.
In your long and illustrious career, what achievement are you most proud of?Martyn
I'm most proud of the team we built across the whole Business and in particular the SHE Team and of our success in operations. We were lucky to have a Canadian shareholder for 15 years, that gave us the freedom and remit to grow the business. So, I had a hugely enjoyable career. I had a team that I respected and could rely on, and that worked well together. That's the thing I'm proudest of, having the right people in the right place doing the right things safely.Ian
what about the future? What are your thoughts for the next 10 to 15 years in risk management in high-hazard industries?Martyn
We're on the cusp of significant change with energy transition as oil consumption declines with knock on impacts to tank storage terminals, oil refining and chemical manufacturing. Hydrogen is a good example of a commodity which isn't handled widely at the moment. So, there's a lot of new learning to be done to develop a storage and distribution network for hydrogen. So, the future of safety is coping with change and having the tools and expertise to deal with new risks. Automation is evolving rapidly. The Company’s Amsterdam terminal is practically emission free due to significant automation. As good as the team are, people can and will always make mistakes. By having the right automation in place can reduce human error in the control of high-hazards.Ian
What advice would you give to yourself aged 18?Martyn
Be ambitious, focused and determined and, be very aware of the talented and competent people that you're surrounded by at all levels in the organization. Always be prepared to listen and learn from others.Ian
Finally, Martyn, how do you unwind?Martyn
Sailing my dinghy and being part of a Sailing Club that’s very friendly, but also very competitive. It’s significant mental therapy because when I'm concentrating on my racing, all the other things that I have to worry about for the other six days of the week, are pushed back whilst I'm concentrating on my sailing.Ian
Martyn, thank so much. It's been very insightful, and I really do appreciate you taking time out to share your insights. Enjoy your sailing.