The devil is in the details

August 1, 2006 By    

I was fortunate to serve as legal counsel for the Propane Incident Data Collection Project that is featured in this issue of LP Gas Magazine.

John McCoy
John McCoy

The full report contains incredible information on accidents related to propane use. It is the most comprehensive, empirical study ever conducted on propane-related injuries by an independent and objective group. Every effort was made to insure the reliability of the data.

Although the study only looks at a three-year window of time, it does give the reader a good sense of where actions can be taken to improve on the rate of accidents related to propane use.

One clear conclusion that can be made from this report is that on a day-to-day basis propane is relatively safe to use for the average consumer compared to other activities in their daily lives.

For example, there are 1.3 propane-related fatalities per year for every 1 million residences consuming propane. This fatality rate compares to 40 fatalities per year for every 1 million residences involved in all types of fires.

As an industry, we focus incredible efforts at reducing the rate of propane-related accidents. This report will help realize specific areas of risk that can be addressed with proactive strategies aimed at even further injury avoidance and reduction – a goal that is the cornerstone of the industry.

As the industry proceeds forward, it should prioritize its game plan to focus on those areas that it can exact the greatest control and derive the biggest impact. Inversely, the less control the industry can exact on a risk area, the lower the priority that area should have.

This sliding scale analysis should be interfaced with those areas where the greatest instance of injury on a statistical basis occur as reflected in this report.

For instance, about 140 fatalities a year were associated with the use of propane, but only 5 percent of those fatalities were from fires where the use of propane caused the fire and was within the control of the propane industry.

A majority of these fatalities, 66 percent, were caused by propane fire, but it was outside the control of the propane industry. Another 9 percent were not caused by propane but propane was involved (as in a collision).

As we begin to digest this report, there will be a need to focus efforts on education and training to improve safety in target areas. Industry members, consumers and manufacturers of products using propane all need to be in the circle of communication.

We must also look to technology to reduce the intervention of possible human error wherever possible. Human error can never be eliminated completely. But, we do know that when properly designed, technological innovation can be devised to reduce the rate of human error.

This report will help identify and design a new generation of technology that will provide even greater protection to all that come in contact with this exceptional energy.

This serves as a watershed moment in this industry. With this benchmark we will now be able to move forward in systemic ways to improve on an excellent safety record in this industry.

The leadership of this industry has he demonstrated willingness to take it to the next level. Opportunity is knocking. Lets answer the door.

John V. McCoy is the president of McCoy & Hofbauer, S.C. and specializes in the representation of propane companies. He can be reached at 800-599-8300 or

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