A team approach keeps propane plants safe and secure

May 10, 2022 By    

It’s not easy being a plant manager.

Eastern Propane & Oil’s bulk storage facility in Winchendon, Massachusetts, during the fall of 2021. (Photo by Nathan McShinsky)

Eastern Propane & Oil’s bulk storage facility in Winchendon, Massachusetts, during the fall of 2021. (Photo by Nathan McShinsky)

You are required to do so many things – from maintaining supply and complying with government regulations to ensuring that customers get what they need – not to mention the safety and security of the plant, employees and neighbors, all while meeting monthly performance expectations.

Plant safety and security is more effective using a team approach that views safety as an integral part of all activities, including a plant manager’s performance metric.

See something, say something

At New Hampshire-based Palmer Gas & Oil, safety is integral to all company operations, including its propane plants, says Chris Gagnon, safety director.

Through its “See Something, Say Something” program, Palmer Gas & Oil trains employees to keep a critical eye on the safety and security of its propane plants and to report anything that appears out of place. It also implements necessary systems and protocols to ensure the safety and security of the plants.

“We have worked extensively with the Department of Homeland Security to add extra levels of security to our facilities, including automated gates, 24/7 monitoring cameras with artificial intelligence for after-hours notification, and propane and electrical bulk plant emergency shutdown, including a complete electrical shutdown of all electricity in and around bulk plant tanks,” explains Gagnon.

Community outreach

A critical component of Palmer Gas & Oil’s plant and emergency response readiness and safety is community outreach to the local, state and federal agencies that are so important for a variety of reasons.

The company meets regularly with local municipal departments throughout its footprint to review propane plant safety and emergency response readiness. It also coordinates propane safety training with local first responder teams to ensure they have the knowledge necessary to protect themselves and residents when responding to a propane emergency.

“Because Palmer Gas & Oil is a locally owned business whose owners, employees and customers live and work in the local community, we always want to do everything we can to ensure that our emergency responders are prepared,” says Gagnon.

Design and planning

Plant safety begins in the design and build phase to ensure the site is appropriate and the project is completed to the standards of local, state and federal regulators, says Evan Bonney, assistant vice president of risk management at Eastern Propane & Oil.

“Pre-planning for the unexpected is critical: training your employees, working with local emergency responders and having a plan in place,” he adds.

NFPA 58 (2014 edition) requires unattended plants to close internal valves and emergency shutoff valves for the containers when the facility is not in use, unless the valve is required to be open to maintain a process or system.

Bonney recommends propane plant operators consider adopting this procedure even if their state fire codes aren’t operating on the 2014 or newer code version.

Bonney also stresses ensuring bulk storage facilities are well secured and processes are well protected from potential cyberthreat actors.

In the propane industry, we don’t compete on safety. That is one of the reasons why coordinating with fellow safety professionals like Gagnon and Bonney is so valuable. They, like so many others in the industry, are always willing to share their experiences, successes and even failures in a continuous effort to ensure the safety of their employees, companies and property.

Stuart Flatow spent 18 years as the Propane Education & Research Council’s vice president of safety and training before stepping down in February 2019. He can be reached at sflatow@aol.com.

NOTE: The opinions and viewpoints expressed herein are solely the author’s and should in no way be interpreted as those of LP Gas magazine or any of its staff members.

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