Consumer confidence in propane tied to trained, certified workforce

June 1, 2012 By    

NFPA requirements, DOT compliance, motor carrier rules, OSHA standards, fuel gas code provisions: The list of rules and regulations to which today’s retail propane marketer must comply can seem endless.

The merits of some regulations may be debatable, but one thing we can all agree upon is the importance of safety in the propane industry. While marketers are busy demonstrating their safety prowess to regulatory agencies and code officials, there is one audience whose view of safety in the propane industry should be considered paramount: the consumer.

No consumer should ever have to question the safety of the products they use, and marketers must instill consumer confidence in order to retain and grow their propane business. Let’s face it; a retail propane marketer’s lifeblood is the consumer, i.e. their customers, including existing as well as potential new ones. Regulatory and code compliance may affect a marketer’s overhead, but instilling and maintaining consumer trust is vital to business survival.

A Consumer Safety Survey by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) made it clear that the connection between consumer beliefs about propane safety and their willingness to use the fuel is strong. The survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers noted that concerns about safety remain a primary barrier to homeowners making propane a part of their residential energy portfolios. Findings indicated that the less consumers know about propane, the less comfortable they are with using it. However, when consumers receive information about propane and the propane industry, their comfort level increases dramatically. Much of that increased comfort level is based on the knowledge that the person delivering propane to their home or installing a propane appliance is trained and certified.

The process to complete the Certified Employee Training Program (CETP) is simple, but it is important that all steps be completed to ensure the ultimate goal is achieved: certification.

Get employees trained
CETP training is developed and distributed by PERC, whose mission is to promote the safe and efficient use of odorized propane through programs that support safety, training, and the development and commercialization of promising propane technologies.

CETP training materials are available in textbooks and via interactive e-learning DVDs. Training can be held in a marketer’s own classroom setting or through state or regional association training sessions. Training materials include a pre-certification review that employees can complete prior to taking the official National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) CETP certification exam.

Among the many elements contained in CETP training are how to handle and transport propane safely; how to look for and recognize potential hazards; and the requirements of various codes/standards and regulatory agencies, such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT).

“Training and development not only provides employees with the skills necessary to do their jobs; it demonstrates the commitment of employers to staff development and improvement,” says Billie Tucker, executive account analyst for Jamerson McLean Insurance and member of the NPGA CETP Certification Committee. “Better-trained employees are likely to stay with a company longer, are more productive, work faster and complete jobs safely.”

Propane marketers across the United States are finding that a trained field staff can bolster company credibility and help build business.

“Even though we are a small marketer, having a trained employee base helps us build our reputation in the community as a company that knows the propane business and is able to complete jobs safely,” says Karen Sams, co-owner of Sams LP Gas in Orlando, Fla., and chairman of NPGA’s CETP Certification Committee. “I continually hear from my staff in the field that people have heard about us through word of mouth. The quality of our work, which is a result of having a well-trained staff, has helped build our business.”

Get employees certified
Once employees have completed their training, they can then begin the process of becoming certified. Certification requirements are established by NPGA. There are three steps required to complete a CETP certification:

1. Pass the exam.
2. Complete the skills assessment and return the signed affidavits to the testing center within 12 months of passing the exam.
3. Complete any and all required prerequisites within 12 months of passing the exam.

Steps 2 and 3 must be completed within 12 months of passing the exam to complete the certification process. These requirements are most often overlooked, resulting in the exam expiring after the 12-month period and requiring an exam retake.

Once all requirements have been met for the appropriate certification area within the 12-month time frame, a certificate, patch and wallet card will be mailed to the candidate.

According to NPGA program statistics, about 30 percent of employees who pass the written or online CETP exam do not complete the skills assessment phase that would earn them CETP certification. Not completing this last step represents a lost opportunity for employees and a bottom-line loss to companies that have invested time and resources in training but not fully leveraged that investment.

“The skills assessment, performed by a qualified individual, is the most important element of the CETP Program,” Tucker says. “Even if an employee has had excellent training, without that assessment, a propane marketer may not be able to defend a claim.”

Indeed, though not every state requires propane employees to be certified, there is a significant advantage to doing so, says John V. McCoy, partner in the McCoy Law Group, a law firm in Waukesha, Wis., with a primary focus on liability issues.

“One of the most extensive areas of investigation and attack against marketers is their training and competence to do their jobs,” McCoy says. “From a trial attorney’s point of view, having written proof of successful completion of CETP is vital when defending marketers in litigation. There is absolutely no benefit in not being certified; in fact, there is substantial downside risk in failing to obtain certification.”

Investing in the future
CETP training provides propane technicians with the knowledge necessary for use in the field. CETP certification provides third-party verification of employees’ knowledge and skills, and facilitates the necessary documentation to demonstrate this to employers and licensing authorities. Certifications are documented by a paper certificate and maintained in an online database where all training records can be accessed by both employees and their employers.

Proof of professionalism to consumers in the form of a certificate represents one of the top safety-related messages as identified in the PERC Consumer Safety Survey. In fact, among primary users of propane, secondary users and even non-users that took part in the survey, without question the most compelling propane safety dimension was that “systems [be] serviced and installed only by industry certified and trained professionals.”

Providing proper training for your employees and completing the certification process may be the best investments you make in your business this year.
Resources
• CETP training from the Propane Education & Research Council is available through a variety of channels, including written, online and DVDs. Visit www.propanesafety.com for information.

• The National Propane Gas Association CETP certification program provides propane employees with verification of their knowledge and skills, and can be maintained throughout their careers. Information can be found at www.npga.org and www.cetpcertification.org.

Mike Caldarera is vice president of Regulatory & Technical Services for the National Propane Gas Association. He can be reached at mcaldarera@npga.org or 202-355-1323.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the senior editor of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at kyanik@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3724.

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