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Safety Angels Where Commerce Fears to Tread

January 1, 2008 By    

In the Frank Capra classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” an angel is sent down to shepherd and protect one of the flock. Through insight and intervention, Clarence the angel earns his wings by looking out for George Bailey, a man who has lost sight of his priorities and purpose.

Jay Johnston
Jay Johnston

So often in life we escape tragedy and mayhem in spite of our indifference to risk.

I have heard it whispered that propane is a forgiving fuel, a reference to near misses and tragedies avoided due to luck and circumstance and lack of fuel, air and ignition.

The same can be said for all of the times injuries were avoided when proper personal protection was not used. Many freeze or flash burns in the field could just as easily have been serious injuries to eyes and skin. Luckily for us that knees, backs and toes can stand a great deal of abuse before surrendering to serious injury.

Then we have the inevitable management team that ignores or pretends not to see safety issues due to the blinders of commerce. They turn their backs on questionable situations with hope that the odds are in their safety favor – if they give it that much thought at all.

When safety issues arise, those selfish and sorry folks become experts at denying the very existence of a problem. “Maybe it will go away,” they say.

Who are these safety malingers? They are every propane employee, manager, supervisor, owner or industry politician who looks the other way rather than address a safety issue. They lack the courage, conviction and character to stand up for accountability due to accounting interests. They desperately need safety angels.

Who are safety angels? I believe safety angels come in various forms. Sometimes they are those of little means and honest concern who risk greatly to fight for safety. It could be the lowest-ranking driver or new service tech. It could be an office staff member or a C-store fill station attendant. It could be you or me.

An angel of prevention may be the DOT inspector who cites a driver for violations or a loss-control inspector for an insurance company who observes and recommends policies and procedures designed to prevent accidents. Your company probably benefits from safety angels as we speak. You may be just too busy to notice.

A few months ago at a plant accident investigation site, all present were required to watch a plant safety video before being allowed on the premises. This was standard procedure for all who entered the plant, including employees, visitors, inspectors and investigators.

Security employees roam the premises inspecting what they expect by requiring everyone to wear a badge with a sticker validating they had watched the safety video. If a visitor did not have the sticker, he was escorted off the premises until the next scheduled showing of the video. No exceptions. No denial.

Those security employees act like safety angels, and without them that company would be denying existence to risk exposure. Such intervention and inspection may not be cheap, but compared to liability exposures and lives in the balance, it looks like a good investment.

Who are the safety angels for your company? Who looks out for the best interests of your employees, stakeholders and stockholders when you are too busy watching the bottom line?

Maybe the new year is a good time to shepherd safety priorities and purpose at your company. Every time an accident is avoided, an injury is prevented and you experience a loss-free day, listen closely – a safety angel may be getting his wings.

Jay Johnston ( is a seasoned insurance agent, consultant and safety advisor specializing in serving the propane industry. He is the editor of The Safety Leader Newsletter and can be reached at 612-802-0663 or

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