Friday 30 September 2016

Your Business: Engineered risk management

Former pipe fitter Neil O'Carroll told Sean Gallagher how he developed his own global engineering firm

Sean Gallagher

Published 14/08/2016 | 02:30

Sean Gallagher with Neil O’Carroll and his sons Shane and David at Chemstore HQ in Clondrinagh, Limerick. Photo: Liam Burke
Sean Gallagher with Neil O’Carroll and his sons Shane and David at Chemstore HQ in Clondrinagh, Limerick. Photo: Liam Burke

Given the wide range of chemical-type products on the market today, many businesses and organisations find themselves being required to handle a variety of potentially hazardous materials on a daily basis.

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Think of all the potentially hazardous material you may have stored on your own premises - cleaning fluids, solvents, adhesives, lubricants, coolants, pesticides. Add to that any containers of fuel - petrol, oil or gas - stored around your facility. While we might all think that it is desirable to have proper safety measures in place when dealing with such substances, the truth is that the introduction of legislation in this area now actually makes it a legal requirement.

To learn more about what's been happening in this space, I paid a visit last week to hazardous materials experts Chemstore. Set up in 1993 and with offices in Limerick and London, the company employs 25 staff and has an annual turnover of more than €5m.

"We are an engineering firm that specialises in designing and manufacturing the storage units that are used to house hazardous materials on a company's own premises," explains company founder and CEO, Neil O'Carroll.

Made from steel, these storage units resemble the typical 40-foot-type shipping containers you might see being drawn by haulage trucks all across the country - except these come in different sizes and shapes depending on what type of hazardous materials are being stored in them.

"Our most popular storage units include our 'FireVault' branded unit," says Neil. "As the name implies, these 2m-high walk-in units are specially designed using fire-rated steel frames and composite panels and can be made in lengths up to 12m long. Given the robust nature of these units, they are ideally suited for use in oil, gas and pharmaceutical processing plants," he adds. "Our 'ChemStore' branded units are used largely for the storage of corrosive liquids, while the all-steel version is bunded to prevent any leakage of oils or other lubricants in the event of a spillage."

Bunded, I learn, refers to the process by which the bottom of these units are constructed to include an impermeable surround or embankment - designed to prevent hazardous materials from escaping through the floor, walls or underneath the door in the event of a spillage within in the storage unit itself.

"Our 'GasVault' range on the other hand, is designed for the safe storage of pressurised gas cylinders," explains Neil. "For example, many people may remember a time when it was okay for factories or commercial premises to leave gas cylinders stacked up outside their buildings. However, under health and safety legislation, these cylinders must now to be located in a secure enclosure. This prevents unauthorised access as well as avoiding instances such as where a forklift might accidentally knock them over," he adds.

We are joined on our tour of the facility by Neil's sons, David (the firm's technical director) and Shane (who is in charge of marketing). David joined the business in 2012 and has a degree in Manufacturing Systems and a master's in Organisational Health and Safety. Shane, who joined in 2013, has a degree in Environmental Science.

In the goods inward area, staff are busy unloading a new delivery of box steel and sheet metal. Next to this, production staff are actively cutting, bending and welding steel to form the frames for the different types and sizes of storage units. Once made, these are progressed down the line, where they are primed and painted before being clad with fire-rated panels.

"Because we make every part ourselves here on site, we can guarantee the quality of everything - from the steel frames themselves right down to the shelves and hinges," says David.

In addition to providing storage products the company also offers a variety of training, safety audits and risk assessments on how to handle highly-flammable substances lab safety, emergency spill responses, safety signage requirements and personal protective equipment.

Over the last 23 years the business has built up a strong national and international customer base in pharma, oil and gas and general industry - with clients such as Pfizer, Amgen, Teva, Novartis, and GSK; BP, Shell and the Corrib Gas Field; as well as Diageo, Veolia, Rolls Royce, Land Rover and Jaguar. In the education arena the company supplies almost every one of the country's universities - and are even suppliers to the London Underground.

"Some 50pc of our revenues now come from exports. That's 40pc from the UK, where we now employ five staff in our office in London and the remaining 10pc from a mix of the Nordics, Central Europe, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Singapore," says Shane.

It's been an interesting journey for founder Neil O'Carroll. Growing up beside Thomond Park in Limerick, he left school to serve his time as an apprentice pipe fitter. Shortly afterwards, he set up his own business providing general maintenance services to local businesses. His interest in the hazardous goods area only came about by chance in 1993.

"It was the time when multinational firms were locating here in significant numbers. With them came greater demands in terms of environmental, health and safety standards. It was also the time when new legislation on storing hazardous liquids came into effect. I was contacted by a Cork pharma company to see if I could make a storage unit for them so that they could store hazard materials on site," says Neil.

The company was so pleased with the unit he made that he was commissioned to make others. Over time, word spread and he was approached to make units for other companies. Around that time too, there was a major accident in a pharma plant in Cork which served to further highlight the need for all companies to have proper storage facilities in which to house hazardous materials on site. From there, enquires began to flood in.

In the summer of 2015, there was a catastrophic chemical explosion in Tianjin, China. On foot of this, Shane featured on BBC World News and the Wall Street Journal speaking about what needed to be done to prevent such events happening. As a result, the company's profile shot up internationally, strengthening its position as experts and leading to enquires from all over the world.

Chemstore also made another breakthrough when they were invited by Nexen Oil to locate one of their FireVault units on the company's Golden Eagle Oil Rig in the North Sea some 70km of the coast of Scotland - something that has opened up the oil and gas exploration sector as another potentially lucrative market.

More recently, the company won a contract to manufacture storage units to house radio and fibre optic equipment for companies involved in the roll out of national broadband scheme.

"It's a significant order that will be worth €4m to us over the next three years," says Neil.

While his target now is to grow the company's total revenues to €20m over the next five years, he has an even larger and more compelling goal.

"Our overriding mission is to create a safer workplace for employees everywhere by eliminating the risks associated with storing and handling hazardous materials," Neil says.

Few people who start a new business ever really know where the business will end up. Almost 30 years ago O'Carroll took the brave step of setting up his own local maintenance company. Today, with his sons by his side, he has managed to grow that into a successful global business that is literally helping to save lives.

Overview

Company: Chemstore

Business: Manufacture of storage units for hazardous materials

Set up: 1993

Founder: Neil O'Carroll

Turnover: €5.5m

No of Employees: 25

Location: Headquartered on the Ennis Road, Co Limerick, with a UK office on Putney Bridge Road, London

Neil's advice for other businesses

1 Only hire the best people

"If you want to really succeed, hire the best people you can afford. To be strategic and forward focused, you cannot allow yourself to get stuck in the day-to-day operational side of your business. Hire the best people. Manage them well. Then learn to trust them to deliver."

2 Quality is huge

"To develop your business into a long-term success, you have to develop a reputation for consistently delivering high quality products and services to your customers. To really differentiate yourself you have to become recognised as the best in your sector."

3 Listen to your customers

"Success depends on your willingness to engage with and listen to your customers. If asked, customers will provide you with valuable feedback to help improve your business. Satisfied ones will also help convince new customers to do business with you."

For further information see www.chemstore.ie

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