‘The Tool Man’ gone astray

December 1, 2007 By    

There is a badge of courage and the stamp of stupidity related to most do-it-yourselfers who dream of being Tim “The Tool Man.” I have worn both over the past few years taking on my share of home-improvement projects.

 Jay Johnston
Jay Johnston

I must admit, I was usually forced into the process due to time, cost and pride. For example, a hot-water pipe burst in the mudroom bathroom. I could tell because the floor was warmer than normal, and I heard hissing. The economics of the situation drove me to shut the water off and begin to start tearing things out. Once I had the commode and stool out, I had the challenge of removing the floor to get at the pipes. No gas lines – I checked.

During the process, I nicked the pipes in five other places with the ripsaw.

Each step of the way was a lesson in humility. I learned to sweat a joint and found out I’d missed one when we turned on the water and it blew all over. “Shut it off! Shut it off!” would be the polite version of what my soaking wet and slightly peeved wife shouted.

I then learned to insulate pipe, install the new floor and put everything back together. That was three years ago. So far so good – knock on wood.

Since then I have completed a few carpentry projects, like replacing a 20-year-old, 900-square-foot deck. I learned treated lumber is as tough as oak and hard on saw blades. I learned that ripping treated lumber with a small table saw could kill the motor. I learned how to take the motor off, order and install a new one. In the store I learned that the new saws have many more safety guards than the one I had borrowed from a friend.

Would I tackle those projects again? Maybe. I found I enjoyed the challenge of learning new skills. I found the Internet and my hardware store to be a wealth of information on advice and safety.

What about your do-it-yourselfers customers?

So how do you keep your customers from becoming Tim “The Tool Man” with their propane systems? Should you warn them about unauthorized and unskilled work on the system? Why? What is the difference between plumbing, carpentry and gas when it comes to safety? Who are the stakeholders in the process?

I believe every propane marketer should warn customers about unauthorized and unskilled work on their propane system. Most of them don’t understand the difference and/or perilous hazards of amateurs working with propane connections and appliances. Gas under pressure is a different animal and needs to be addressed at every outreach level. Your customers’ courage and stupidity should not be an excuse to fail to warn them.

The safety material you send your customers should clearly warn them about tampering with their own system, what to do if they smell gas, advise them to buy gas leak and carbon monoxide detectors and other important safety information contained in the new PERC Consumer Safety booklets and brochures.

I believe we should be motivated to do so by the many stakeholders in the process, including the customer’s family, friends and amateur contractors; any emergency personnel called in to respond to an incident; your employees and the public. Your insurance company and the legal profession are stakeholders with obligations and expectations, as well.

Many states are passing limited liability laws to promote safety and discourage unauthorized work on propane systems, but that is just one part of the outreach. Communication about these new laws combined with your safety marketing efforts will promote propane safety and prevent accidents.

I’d love to see a PERC ad where a do-it-yourselfer Tim “The Tool Man” type tries to take credit for installing a new appliance, with his wife on the phone, as he pays off the propane guy for doing the job safely and hustles him out the back door.

Ah well, a safety guy can dream.

Jay Johnston (www.TheSafetyLeader.com) is president of Jay Johnston & Associates Inc., specializing in safety audits, insurance consulting and unique speaking presentations for propane marketers. Jay can be reached at 952-935-5350 or Jay@thesafetyleader.com.

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