A Propane Profile: Eric Kuster

March 7, 2017 By    

One year ago, the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) named Eric Kuster as its director of safety and certification.

The association created the position to help link NPGA with the Propane Education & Research Council’s (PERC) safety and training working group. Kuster earned the job after spending about 10 years in risk engineering positions at Fairmont Insurance Co. He also previously served as chairman of NPGA’s Certified Employee Training Program (CETP) certification committee and PERC’s safety and training working group.

Having worked as a first responder, a safety director and a director of risk engineering, Kuster has a wealth of knowledge on safety issues.

LP Gas Associate Editor Megan Smalley connected with Kuster to hear more about his new role and the safety lessons he’s learned over the years.

LP Gas: How did you get your start in the propane industry?

Kuster: I was working with a gentleman on a fire department who also worked for a propane company. [His company] was looking for help at the time. It was basically a part-time job to make some extra money that developed into a full-time job, but I also continued to work as a first responder for a while. I became a driver, a service tech, a district manager and a terminal manager. The propane industry has given me tremendous opportunity for growth.

LP Gas: How did safety become a big focus of your career?

Kuster: There are two primary ways. First, I grew up on a farm, and safety records aren’t so good there. I was witness to a few less-than-desirable results of accidents. Also, I was a first responder for fire EMS for seven or eight years. I got to visit a lot of incidents. When you go to those incidents, you start to see there’s really a great way to prevent tragedies. When you put those two experiences together, I developed a passion for finding ways to prevent incidents rather than just respond to them.

LP Gas: Was there any one person who shaped your views on safety?

Kuster: I’m standing on the shoulders of some giants. To name one or two would be difficult. I’ve been impressed by the person who gave me my first safety position: Keith McMahan at Tri-Gas & Oil Co. I’ve also had the opportunity to deal with so many other safety professionals from different organizations in the propane and insurance industries.

LP Gas: How did you transition into the insurance industry after having several positions in the propane industry?

Kuster: I had worked in safety in propane and was looking to broaden my horizons. An opportunity came along with a company that specialized in high-hazard coverage. I became national director of engineering for [Fairmont Insurance’s] parent company. I was over all risk engineering services for the U.S. for our company and all different kinds of programs – explosives, manufacturing, workers’ comp. This was a great opportunity to expand my safety knowledge base and work with a bunch of other companies and industries.

LP Gas: What lessons did you learn in the insurance industry that have benefited you in your latest position?

Kuster: Each industry has challenges when it comes to safety and compliance. Every industry works very hard to be able to address those. I don’t think any employer wants any of their customers or employees to be injured.

I brought this lesson home: It’s not a lack of wanting to make people safe. Sometimes it’s considering if you have programs in place, knowing how people are getting injured and checking if we are taking the steps to mitigate those. Every industry works at those in different ways.

I also learned to look at incidents on a large scale and look at the causes and how to put mitigation programs into place to prevent incidents. The interesting thing in insurance is that you’ve got thousands of customers and claims consistently coming in. Something might happen once in a 20-year cycle at a single company, but it may occur this way many times at other companies.

Insurance taught me to look at incidents through those prisms. You can make a sound decision on how to push safety, training and risk mitigation by looking at numbers and trends.

LP Gas: What are some of your goals for this next year?

Kuster: I want to be able to coordinate better between PERC and NPGA safety and training goal requirements, especially with regard to a lot of legislative changes that are happening. LPG

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