Contractor, vendor and supplier safety

February 1, 2007 By    

In my safety programs I always list contractors, vendors and suppliers as stakeholders in the safety process.

Any propane company is only as strong as its weakest link. Usually in that context we are talking about employees. However, I believe a case can be made for identifying contractors, vendors and suppliers as potential weak links as well.

 Jay Johnston, LP/Gas Magazine Columnist
Jay Johnston, LP/Gas Magazine Columnist

Many propane marketers have forgone installation and service work, leaving it to heating and plumbing contractors. The problem with that is training. When these contractors have not been properly trained to set up gas systems and make sure they are running properly, risky situations often develop.

Appliance installation requires technical knowledge and a clear understanding of code requirements. Something as simple as installing a natural gas appliance to a propane system without conversion can create big problems. Knowing what to look for with a poorly igniting burner is a minimum requirement when you fire up the system. Inspecting the system for required shut-offs, drip legs, sediment traps, venting and other code issues also should be addressed.

The problem lies in lack of control and poor communication between propane companies and local HVAC contractors. The propane company naturally assumes the HVAC contractor will do their job per code requirements. Never assume when it comes to your future legal liability.

Training is mandatory in some states where licensing is required, but rumor has it some proof of knowledge assessments are pretty shallow. HVAC contractors should be held to as high a standard as we hold our own service technicians.

It may pay big safety dividends for you to provide safety information about installation practices as well as your requirements in situations where contractors work on your supply systems. You may even require a certificate of training, provide training or design an agreement holding them to expected safety standards.

Insurance is another issue. While you may have at least $1 million plus an umbrella, some HVAC contractors only carry $500,000 or less in liability limits. Requiring a certificate of insurance whenever you are in a vendor, contractor or supplier relationship is always a best practice.

In addition to establishing proof of coverage, you can determine whether the coverage adequately meets your requirements. When it comes to the liability food chain, higher is always better as a buffer between you and some attorney looking for the money regardless of cause.

Obviously, vendors such as fill stations should have training documentation for every employee handling, servicing or refilling cylinders. The NPGA / PERC CD on Dispensing Propane (Safely) is an excellent, low-cost tool to use for this kind of training. Documentation of certificates of insurance along with training material, warning material, requalification log use and that the dispensing system meets code requirements are vital to have on file.

Suppliers usually require a certificate of insurance from you. I highly recommend you consider a few requirements of contractors who buy your gas and use your equipment. As a supplier, you have a stake in their safety.

Warn them early and warn them often. Design training and warning package material specifically tailored for each type of contractor. For example, consider offering a safety program on changing out tanks, leak check requirements, what to do in case of an emergency and safety tips for temporary heat documented with handout material and a sign-up sheet. It can go a long way towards accident prevention.

We are all ambassadors of good will when it comes to promoting the safe use of propane. At your next safety meeting discuss the ways contractors, vendors and suppliers are stakeholders in the safety process. It’s the right thing to do.

Jay Johnston ( is president of Jay Johnston & Associates, specializing in insurance, safety and leadership strategies for propane marketers. He can be reached at 952-935-5350 or

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