Safety in New World: a tough order

May 1, 2007 By    

Nationwide, business managers are trying to quantify the process of safety to an exact science. In short, they believe they can turn the topic of safety into a sort of New World order.

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

That concept misses the mark when it comes to propane safety. Let me explain.

Statistics, pie charts, graphs and white paper studies attempt to franchise the concept of safety like McDonald’s franchised the cheeseburger. Theory being, once carved in stone and blessed by the attorneys, it ought to be defendable and solve all problems. One solution fits all.

Unfortunately we live in the real world where distractions occur every day, values are occasionally dismissed and entire futures hang on the commitment of each company’s weakest link.

Every marketer reading this column knows that safety is a day-to-day process that requires vigilant vision and constant communication. It means we have to be in tune with our employees by inspecting what we expect and never waiver a safety factor in favor of profit or convenience.

I am all for making a profit. In fact, that is the very reason we are in business – unless it’s because you love the smell of ethyl mercapitan in the morning.

I also think earning a profit is the most moral thing a businessperson can achieve. I just advocate that we do it safely, every day.

One of my favorite marketers says, “If safety is only preached by management at safety meetings and not on a daily basis, employees will believe that it’s only lip service to satisfy some regulatory requirement. I have fired customers and employees for unsafe acts (never a pleasant experience).”

I love the fact that he prioritizes safety measurement and expectations with customers and employees alike. A true safety leader is like a good baseball manager. He’s focused on the game from the first pitch to the last out and he’s not afraid to pull the pitcher.

So while I encourage continued education, gas-system checks, customer safety communication, comprehensive documentation and regular safety meetings, those efforts must be backed up with human compassion, earnest encouragement and open eyes.

Safety management must be a process of day-to-day interaction with those hard-working heroes who drive the trucks, deliver the gas, fill the cylinders, provide tech service, work in the plant or keep things running smoothly in office.

Real people need real-world encouragement. Loss-free experience can never be effectively dictated or expected without reflective relationships.

I also believe that it is through stories that we learn. That is why I am a student of origin and cause. It is why I focus as hard on the how and why as what and where. Most of all I believe we must open our eyes and embrace the causes of accidents. It’s the only way we can learn to prevent them.

You do not have to experience a tragic accident to prevent one. You just have to stay in the game, communicate daily and motivate compliance through heartfelt concern for the safety of your employees and customers.

Now that is real-world safety.

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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