In the Know: Safety steps to take before winter

June 28, 2014 By and    

In the Know is a monthly partnership between LP Gas magazine and Propane Resources. Our focus this month is on safety, addressed by financial consultant and business valuations and sales expert Tamera Kovacs.

Q. What are the most important safety measures propane retailers can take now to prepare for next winter?

A. Now that winter is in our rearview mirrors, it’s time to think about safety.

One of the most important things when it comes to safety is documentation. In the eyes of the “authorities” (buyers, insurance companies, transportation departments, attorneys), if it isn’t documented, then technically it did not happen. Have your paperwork and documentation in order.

Safety, much like collections or any other necessary evil, is not a fun task but is easiest when you have a system in place.

Work now to get the following systems in place. Then, implement them. Designate a point person and make sure his or her responsibility to have all safety items and documentation in order is understood. Choose someone who is good with detail and enjoys the task. Then follow up with them quarterly.

The following is a safety list to use, in no particular order:

  1. Vehicle files: Get all vehicle files in order. To keep organized, place all documents (or copies) in clear sleeves in a three-ring binder. Keep a list of what should be in each binder in the front of the binder. Keep all documentation in the same order. Keep a duplicate copy for each truck in the office. For a list of the paperwork that should be kept in the vehicle, contact your state executive, any company that sells safety forms, or safety experts.
  2. Maintenance files: Have a maintenance file on each vehicle. Keep an Excel sheet (with a copy in the maintenance file) for each truck, summarizing all of the work performed, with copies of the invoices as supporting documentation.
  3. Bulk storage files: Many retailers do not have a file for each bulk storage facility. Start a file, which includes the U1A certificate, maintenance performed, including invoices.
  4. Driver qualification file: Three separate files should be kept on each driver – Department of Transportation (DOT), personnel and drug testing. These files should not be the same file. DOT files need to be reviewed monthly to ensure timely renewal of expiring documents. Both the DOT and drug-testing files (kept separately) should be locked and only accessible by the manager and human resources.
  5. Underground cathodic protection testing: The testing requirements have changed over the past years regarding underground cathodic protection testing. Check with your NFPA 58 handbook for the most up-to-date requirements. When you perform cathodic testing, document the testing performed and keep a copy of the documentation 1) in the customer file and 2) in a file for cathodic testing performed. Some companies go above and beyond by performing and documenting a cathodic protection test every year on each underground installation.
  6. GAS Check procedures: Many gas companies strive to minimize their insurance premiums. One way is to perform and document GAS Checks on 20 percent or more of their customer base each year (not including any out-of gas-situations). Perform an annual GAS Check for all customers in public areas like schools, churches, government buildings, restaurants, etc. Summers are an ideal time to prepare a schedule and perform the checks.
  7. Regulator changes: Summer is a great time to replace any out-of-date regulators and document any updates or changes in the customer systems.
  8. Monthly safety meetings: Work now to prepare the next 12 months of safety trainings. If something comes up that needs covered that month, add it to the prescheduled safety meeting or push the prescheduled meeting back a month. Remember, you must have a signature sheet for meeting attendees.
  9. Documentation of “duty to warn” notification to customers: Keep a copy of the mailing list, the postage report, the National Change of Address and CASS certified software reports for your records. Be sure to include yourself and your insurance agent as recipients of the mailing. But do not open. Keep all of the above reports and the unopened mailing in a file for future insurance audit purposes.
  10. Keep staff up to date with certified employee training.
  11. Set up an annual program to train/retrain resellers or dispenser accounts. Do not forget to document the training and keep it on file.

Dotting your “i’s” and crossing your “t’s” when it comes to safety is paramount. You may not have everything perfect, but the key is to make strides toward improvement. While this list isn’t complete, it’s a great place to start.

Tamera Kovacs is a financial consultant and an industry expert in business valuations and business sales with Propane Resources. For more than 22 years, Propane Resources has been providing financial and operational consulting, merger and acquisition services, supply, transportation, and marketing communications services for the propane industry. Contact Tamera at 913-262-0196 or tamera@propaneresources.com.

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