Safety inoculation against liability flu

January 1, 2007 By    

The other day my doctor recommended I get a flu shot. I declined, rationalizing that I have given up most of my bad habits, exercise daily and am in fine shape.

Jay Johnston
Jay Johnston

Besides, I worry about introducing any new strains of bugs into my immune system. The Doc said “better safe than sorry.”

I realized there are some parallels with propane safety.

I’m sure many marketers roll their eyes at all the new requirements to comply with liability issues. They sincerely resent the pressure to spend time and money on prevention “shots” such as training, record keeping, warning material, gas system checks, out-of-gas leak checks, DOT compliance, landlord agreements, security plans, fire safety analysis plans and more.

It is true that the cumulative “shots” they must take to comply, conform and communicate are expensive, especially when money is tight and the weather is warm. It seems like greasing wheels when they don’t squeak.

Just as flu shots are designed to build your immune system against specific strains of flu, requirements to comply, conform and communicate are designed to prevent costly accidents that can cause death, injury or property damage. When accidents do occur they often are the result of unauthorized work or incidental liability by others. We want to prevent all accidents, and specifically to strengthen our safety immune system against the errant acts of others.

My doctor said there are many ways I can be exposed to airborne flu germs. In the same vein, there are many ways your customers can expose your company to liability flu.

For example, every landlord/rental situation where you fail to hold all parties accountable through written agreement may expose your company to a new strain of liability. You may not have done anything wrong, but can you prove you communicated and took steps to inoculate the situation with safety information? Similar issues should be addressed with vendors, contractors and commercial customers.

Another exposure would be those customers where you have limited system information and no formal gas system check on file. Any propane-related incident would usually call for a review of all records for that particular customer’s system. It may have nothing to do with the cause, but they are going to want to know what you sent the customer besides a bill.

Another strain of liability comes in the form of failure to provide warning material addressing carbon monoxide and propane gas detectors. Some states and legal jurisdiction are mute regarding residential use or installation of detectors. Others require hard-wired detectors for new housing or commercial buildings, but fail to require the same standards for older dwellings. It is critical that you be on record as addressing those issues with your customers.

I might add that the new residential warning brochure “Important Propane Safety Information for You and Your Family” by PERC does an excellent job of addressing those issues.

Today’s strains of liability exposure are much different than just 10 years ago. As we learn about cause, origin and circumstance we must do our best to inoculate ourselves against customer exposures that may cause liability flu.

Like the Doc says, better safe than sorry.

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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