In memory of the Safety Committee

August 1, 2006 By    

I am sad to report the death of the National Propane Gas Association‘s Safety Committee.

Jay Johnston
Jay Johnston

Twenty years ago or so, as a younger insurance guy, I decided to invest in my future by joining the NPGA and the Safety Committee. My first meeting was pretty difficult because I knew no one.

Chairman Ray Murray took me under his wing and introduced me to safety pioneers such as Em Thomas, Jim Meyers, Skip Ferdinand, Al Stillwaggon, Norm Bushey and Joe Cummings. They all made me feel welcome and introduced me to the challenges of NPGA safety issues.

No one questioned whether a member was a supplier or marketer; everyone was encouraged to participate in a democratic process.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate with and meet characters like Milt Heath, Ken Strunk, Dick Thatcher, Bill Mahre, Jeff Cole, Don Crowder and David Stainbrook. I traveled and met safety people in ways that were focused on making a difference.

I will miss Sue Spear and Jinna Davis, as they grew into executives who understood their members and did their best to administer the wishes of too many stakeholders. I wish them both smoother seas.

Over the years, I contributed with regard to propane insurance claims analysis, prevention alternatives and case study education. I believe that experience has helped me serve the industry as a safety leader.

Amidst the serious stuff, we had fun as well. Once in Carmel, Calif., the restaurant pushed expensive wine on our group without telling us the cost. Our bill was staggering, and the manager refused to negotiate. Ted Lemoff noticed the dessert cart was using a 20-pound cylinder inside the restaurant. We all paid up, but, amazingly, the next morning the fire inspector came by and shut down the dessert cart.

At one time, there was an NPGA safety manual with bulletins on safety issues. It was designed and continually updated to educate and inform marketers about propane safety codes and procedures. Then, a few concerned political types designed a plan to merge the Training & Education Committee with the Safety Committee and the next thing we knew, they ditched the safety manual.

According to the powers that be, the legal system was holding marketers to standards covered in the manual. So, they burned the book.

Right around that time the Propane Education & Research Council was born and the marketers who wanted control got the money to do the job under complete autonomy. That’s where the shift in control of safety began.

Burdened with high expenses and limited funding, NPGA sold the rights to our CETP program to PERC, closed the Chicago headquarters and moved to Washington. The death sentence for the Safety Committee was in the making and the stage was set for the marketer-driven PERC organization to literally seize control of the safety process.

Relations between PERC and NPGA regarding safety have been tense over the past two years. Large marketers, who sell more gallons and pay more assessments, utilized PERC to control issues related to safety with costs and the bottom line in mind.

As of July, the old Safety Committee no longer exists. The Training & Education Committee has limited input over any safety issues beyond training and education. This was by design, allowing marketers to be an island unto their own, for better or worse.

Suppliers and other non-marketer NPGA members have been limited through PERC advisory committee involvement. I say limited because suppliers and non-marketers are not encouraged to participate as would normally be afforded in a democratic process, outside of being invited to share or sell privileged information.

It’s tough for suppliers/non-marketers to pay inflated dues, buy booths at conventions, buy advertising, sponsor events and pay up whenever asked and yet be told they have limited input. The enabling law may have been designed to suggest that marketers pay the PERC assessment, but one could make a good argument that we all pay it as propane consumers. Besides, this industry is made up of marketers and suppliers who equally share liability issues related to safety.

With the NPGA Safety Committee gone, I suggest PERC open the safety process up to suppliers and non-marketer NPGA members as equal members in the process. I don’t expect the idea to go over very well, but now that they have killed the Safety Committee, it seems like a fair thing to do.

To all those NPGA members with whom I have served on both Safety and ETS, I raise my glass to salute and toast your hard work and dedication. The industry is safer for your involvement and it has been my privilege to serve with you.

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