Commercial customer safety exposed

April 1, 2004 By    

If you are sending little more than a bill to your commercial customers, your corporate assets are exposed.

The major contention by a plaintiff attorney in any personal injury litigation will always come around to what they call “Duty to Warn.” What did you tell them? When did you tell them? How often did you tell them?

Let’s say, for example, that a commercial forklift customer has an accident where two employees are severely burned. The apparent cause of the explosion was an improper tank change out by an employee. The connection was not secure and a leak found ignition.

After the shock, you must notify your insurance company, since the incident involved one of your customers using your products. The first statement out of a claims investigator’s mouth will be: “I’ll need copies of all safety communications and training provided to this customer for the past five years.” He’ll also ask for a copy of your contract with the customer.

Your commercial customer’s workers compensation insurance company is facing a huge medical claim. They hate to pay out money when they could blame someone else. So they pay the money, but go after (subrogate) any potentially negligent parties. That means you.

The documentation of proper cylinder filling and the training of your employees will be the first line of defense.

The second line of defense will be your prior efforts to confirm that the customer properly trained their employees to do their job. In other words, do you have a contract that discusses these issues?

The third line of defense is to review what type of safety information sent, how often, and whether you offered training to the customer.

What about contractors who run out of gas using tanks and systems that require a leak test after interruption of service?

It is recommended that you offer and implement training regarding performing a leak test on interruption of service per requirements in NFPA 58. It also should be specified in your supply contract that all contractor customer employees involved in such procedures be properly trained to perform those functions. This training should be documented. You may even request a copy for your files.

In actuality our customers are our partners in business. Your efforts to tie up loose ends regarding safety communications may be met with resistance or, worse yet, indifference. Trust me when I tell you that if your customer is exposed regarding safety issues, then so are you as the supplier.

It is time to implement procedures to clarify assumptions and sell those customers on the ways to reduce or eliminate those exposures. This may take some selling.

I remember as a young insurance agent, my sales manager asked me if I had thoroughly cross-sold coverages for all of my customers. Then he asked if I knew for sure that my prospects all had proper coverage that would prevent a costly surprise.

I was pretty sure my customers had all the right coverages, but I began to wonder about all those issues that they declined or told me were not important. I had to admit to my sales manager that I wasn’t 100 percent sure. He looked me in the eye and said, “How do you sleep at night with all those loose ends and prospects in need of your expertise and your help?” I hit the street running out of fear and sales motivation.

Never forget that a customer’s lack of urgency about safety is a poor excuse and that you will never sell them enough gas to offset a serious personal injury litigation claim.

At your next managers or safety meeting discuss commercial customer safety exposures. Design solutions and hit the streets running.

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