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Sweet dreams and safe results

August 1, 2007 By    

Because of the nature of my work, I am exposed to many nightmares when it comes to propane accidents. I see the press releases citing injuries, inaccurately stating probable cause, quoting innuendo from neighbors and trying the case in the media.

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

I write stories about weak links and customer communication with the purpose of putting propane marketers on notice that they don’t have to experience a tragedy to prevent one. Much of it falls on deaf ears, and that really scares me.

I hear regularly from marketers who become associated with a propane accident.

One marketer called and said, “My worst nightmare has been confirmed. Until you get that phone call in the middle of the night, you can’t appreciate the magnitude of the stress, worry and frustration.”

Another marketer who had his insurance cancelled after a large explosion said, “We took our good record for granted — we never knew we had a good deal.”

The nature of propane accidents is low frequency, high severity — which means fewer incidents with occasional tragic results.

So the question for all propane marketers becomes: How do I protect my company, employees and customers from an unlikely event?

Anticipating every possible problem looks impossible from the operations desk. Most days it’s a rat race, and often it seems like the rats are winning.

Customers shopping only for price, ignoring warnings about remodeling and often failing to repair or upgrade systems to meet code due to finances, creates liability exposure.

Owners and managers can only hope that each delivery and service situation is performed perfectly and correctly documented. That’s a large order.

The question becomes one of accountability-based management: Do managers and owners want to know or would they rather assume and hope for the best?

The sounds of silence can be deafening when a major propane accident hits the headlines.

To some in this industry, suggesting safety priorities is akin to treason in terms of marketing. One marketer even suggested, “We are putting gas inside homes; the last thing we want to do is play the safety card.”

Propane is safe — that’s the problem. I’m proud of the safety record of the propane industry. Propane only becomes unsafe when inexperienced people work on systems, employees fail to perform flawlessly or systems are not maintained and tanks are not kept full.

No matter what the cause, your worst nightmare will be confirmed when a tragedy occurs and the news broadcast names your propane company as the supplier who recently performed service or delivered gas.

I believe we all need to take a three-pronged approach to managing safety goals:

  • Management must care. Without leadership, safety is like a ship adrift without a rudder.
  • Employees must care and stay aware of issues in the field and consistently communicate with management about resolving problems.
  • Customers must care about the safety of their own families — from installing gas leak and carbon monoxide detectors to enlisting qualified help when remodeling or changing out an appliance and keeping their tanks full.

I like the leadership shown by the natural gas industry in its marketing ads to consumers about safety. It is up front and informative in a way that creates a genuine impression of concern. Rather than be worried about its marketing image, it supports a positive image by doing its best to make sure its worst nightmare is not confirmed.

Not a bad approach when your goals are sweet dreams and safe results.

Jay Johnston is president of Jay Johnston & Associates, specializing in business consulting, leadership strategy development and unique speaking presentations for propane marketers. Jay can be reached at 952-935-5350 or

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