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Customer warning material promotes safety

April 1, 2007 By    

I am a firm believer that propane companies should not be liable for accidents when they had no association to the cause. It is an easy stand to take.

Jay Johnston
Jay Johnston

Do-it-yourselfers and part-time handymen are responsible for a substantial number of propane accidents. They are also most prone to hire an attorney to seek money for damages created by their own actions.

I would never dream of working on my own gas system, and I am technically qualified.

I had a recent conversation with a plaintiff’s attorney who admitted he would never dream of working on his own gas system either. However, this same person was also trying to extort money from an insurance company representing a propane marketer by asking me to validate his inaccurate assertions. I politely declined.

He was trying to raise credible doubt and needed my perspective on safety to squeeze money out of this situation. The cause in question was related to a homeowner’s own foiled handiwork.

NFPA 54 and 58 (also referred to by plaintiffs’ attorneys as minimum standards) specify that a qualified person perform such functions. I strongly disagree that those codes are minimum standards. I also take exception to those who feel broader precautions and practices equate to universal industry standards. Specifically, I dislike it when those expanded practices are taken out of context to infer liability unrelated to cause.

Which brings me to my main message to encourage you to communicate in many ways with your customers about important safety issues. First and foremost we must go on record as having warned and discouraged unauthorized work on any propane system.

It may seem unfair to have to continually warn customers against their own acts of stupidity, but we are in the customer business. And let’s face it – some customers need more communication than others.

I guarantee that if you had a crystal ball and could foresee the cost to defend an unfounded liability allegation, you would spend more time and money warning your customers about their unsafe acts.

At this time I’d like to refer you to the Propane Industry Resource Book published by the Propane Education & Research Council. Under the category Consumer Safety/ Duty to Warn, there are at least six pages of state-of-the-art safety communication information designed to warn consumers about safety.

I particularly like the new three-part Warning Call Tag for Out-of-Gas communication and the excellent brochures on Important Safety Information for You and Your Family, and Important Safety Information for Users of Small Cylinders.

If you look through the catalog, you will find the results of thorough research on the part of PERC’s Safety and Training Advisory Committee. It even publishes some information in Spanish, which underscores the industry’s commitment to effective safety communication.

Let’s face it – we live in a litigious society where victims without resources will hunt for the money even when no actual liability exists. Guys like my plaintiff’s attorney acquaintance make a living on 30 percent of any judgment, settlement or recovery they can get.

This makes your insurance liability limits a target and, in turn, reflects the real exposures and problems with insuring propane marketers.

In addition to pursuing best practices and training competence, we must continue to educate customers with warning material that promotes safety. Keep good records that document that communication and store it in a safe place.

It’s the safety way.

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.

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