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Safety by the numbers

April 1, 2006 By    

A recent study of propane-related incidents and accidents indicates that the industry has a safety record that demonstrates responsible risk management and control of the distribution of a flammable material.

 Jay Johnston
Jay Johnston

The report also indicates that propane-related fatality numbers are comparable to people who die from lightning strikes or from flooding, although we must acknowledge these are unrelated exposures with similar results. In addition, it is the more common injuries – whether to employees or customers – that drive our costs. Backs and knees and burns are expensive, and burn victims make huge impressions on juries.

The PERC-funded study indicates the glass is much more than half full with regard to the safety performance of the industry. Anyone looking for easy answers may read the positive aspects of the report and miss the most important message. As an industry comprised of marketers and suppliers, we must address our weaknesses to achieve prevention of propane-related incidents.

The report says the key areas that contribute to injury incidents are human action, equipment malfunction and collision/impact.

The study addresses attempts to compare the industry’s safety performance with other energy-related industries such as natural gas and electricity. It quickly concludes that such comparisons would be like comparing “apples and oranges” and further notes:

“Electricity and natural gas are distributed predominantly through engineered systems that are under the care, custody and control of the distributor through the point of usage, and thus minimize the consumers’ handling, decision making for personal actions and exposure to the energy source.”

“The physical properties and characteristics of propane make it transportable and an energy source that is used ‘off the mains.’ Therefore, consumer handling, decision-making and potential exposure is taken out of the control of the propane distributor at the point of delivery to the container, allowing for an increase in at-risk situations (e.g. storing a propane cylinder indoors).”

Related issues likely include injuries due to consumer or unauthorized work on propane systems, with significant emphasis on improper indoor cylinder storage and use, open-fire grill exposures and transportation of product.

The important parts of this report are:

  • To emphasize the excellent job the industry does in preventing propane-related incidents.
  • To identify exposures where fatalities and injuries do occur.
  • To increase industry training and consumer education to continually improve the industry safety record.

It would be a huge leap for anyone to assume from this report that the industry’s exposure to liability is somehow diminished. The study did not include information on legal settlements related to those incidents. But you can bet someone will try to site low incident numbers and other-energy and non-energy exposures to allege liability insurance carriers are price gouging to lay blame for problems. Don’t buy the rhetoric.

In my opinion, the PERC Safety and Training Roadmap published in 2003 is still an extremely credible plan for the accomplishment of industry safety goals. It can be accessed by going to

Let us continue to find out where we are the weakest and reinforce those weaknesses with additional, improved training. We can never stop getting better at what we do. Together we need to focus on accident prevention to achieve safety by the numbers.

Jay Johnston, president of Jay Johnston & Associates
(, helps marketers achieve safe growth through insurance consulting, safety communications design and inspirational safety seminars. He can be reached at 888-725-2705 or

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