Create a culture of safety at your company

May 24, 2024 By    

The “culture of safety” idea is not new. I didn’t coin the term, but I have written about it, including in this magazine.

It’s basically a process to encourage industry people, especially those who transfer propane, to be aware of situations that might cause them harm. We want them to “Watch out for No. 1!” so they can go home to their families every evening.

How do we provide incentive for the culture of safety?

Based on incidents continuing to happen, we haven’t solved that. But several ideas have been suggested. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to judge their effectiveness. Logic and discussions with industry managers have turned up what should be some meaningful ideas.

The culture of safety begins with management. The most important thing seems to be management’s support for being careful and allowing enough time for employees to do their jobs safely.

Emphasis from management through safety meetings and personal communication about being safe helps to instill the proper attitude in employees. Emphasize to employees that they really will be allowed to do things correctly and not be forced to take shortcuts to meet a tight schedule. Management also wins with this approach. Nothing can muck up a plan or schedule like having to fill out accident forms, taking an injured employee to the emergency room or attending a funeral.

Meeting discussions

The NPGA Technology, Standards and Safety (TS&S) Committee meets twice a year to consider a wide range of subjects within its name.

On the first day of the meeting, time is provided to discuss recent incidents. We usually don’t get into the details about names or locations, but we often delve into incident details when we can get them.

A recent incident involved a house that exploded and burned, resulting in the death of a firefighter and other injuries. It’s initially being blamed on a leak in the underground propane tank or the line to the house. This type of incident is taken seriously, as there are thousands of similar installations in the U.S.

We hope the details will be forthcoming so we can discuss them at the next TS&S meeting in the fall and learn how to prevent or reduce the likelihood of repeats.

Many other incidents discussed involve employees filling cylinders or tanks without taking the time to properly assure that these containers are worthy of being filled. Or maybe cylinders are not properly transported after being filled.

Last fall, we discussed an incident in which an employee filled a steel forklift cylinder from a bobtail that shouldn’t have been filled based on corrosion condition and manufacture/requalification dates. This employee died.

We find that incidents such as these rarely need to be addressed by code changes. Instead, more attention to personal or customer safety would provide all the protection needed.

Learning through photos

The Southeast Propane Alliance (SEPA) publishes a monthly magazine that includes a feature called “What’s wrong with this picture?”

I often provide photos and captions to explain what’s wrong with the situation. Sometimes I get photos from propane dealers. The subject matter varies. A small sampling includes flooded underground tank domes, firewood stacked at the end of a tank, blocked access to emergency shutdown stations, emergency valves wired open, heaters on cylinders being used inside stores and severely corroded cylinders.

Since these are already covered by code requirements, code changes wouldn’t help. Instead, employees must understand their responsibility to do the right thing to protect their safety. SEPA provides this feature to bring awareness to situations that employees may often see while performing their duties.

How would you address this failure of employees to recognize their safety responsibilities? Maybe you can share success stories of safety meetings or other methods to instill a culture of safety with your employees.


Richard Fredenburg is an LP gas engineer at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Standards Division. He is also a member of NFPA’s Technical Committee on LP Gases. Contact him at richard.fredenburg@ncagr.gov or 984-236-4752.

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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