Thoughts on the new gas check

June 1, 2007 By    

It is sometimes hard to keep up with all of the new and excellent safety material streaming out of our friends at the Propane Education & Research Council. I think I could spend each article in the magazine writing about new products available from the PERC pipeline. So far the industry has been extremely well-served by the quality of the safety products we have seen. The new material on GAS Check is just one more example of excellent work that is now available for the industry to use.

John V. McCoy
John V. McCoy

What I like about the new GAS Check is that it makes clear what some courts have already said about the old program in published decisions: The program is completely voluntary. It is not intended to establish an industry custom, practice or standard. No marketer is required to adopt all or any part of the program. It is not intended to override or supplant any state or local codes, standards or regulations that might apply to residential systems.

In the old program, there was not as much clear language describing the voluntary nature of the program.

From a lawyer’s point of view, this new language is helpful. I anticipate we will still see opposing counsel in litigation take positions contrary to the plain language of the document. Now we have concrete language to refute these assertions, in addition to case law.

The new program also offers two versions of inspections.

The first is a Gas System Check, which is limited to containers, regulators appurtenances and gas supply lines. The second is a Gas Appliance System Check and includes all of the items in the Gas System Check and all propane-burning appliances and vents.

A marketer that chooses to use the new program may offer either or both of these types of inspections. The program cautions that it should not be offered unless the marketer has trained personnel to perform the inspection(s).

The actual form that is filled out by the serviceman under the new program is more streamlined but fully serves the purpose of the program.

An important part of the new program is the CERTIFICATION document. The lead-in disclaimer lets the consumer know that the inspection was limited to propane “equipment visible and accessible to the service technician and represents the conditions existing on the date of the inspection.” It also tells the consumer that it does not cover “latent or manufacturing defects, the internal working of sealed equipment, or structural components, and cannot be construed to cover future or unforeseen happenings.”

The consumer is asked to acknowledge that they have told the service tech of all gas appliances and gas lines on their property, what to do if they smell gas or suspect a leak, that they know the odor of gas and can detect it, that the odor in gas can fade or that other things can prevent a person from smelling gas and that they should consider buying a gas detector as additional security.

Finally, there is an acknowledgement that the consumer has received consumer warning literature. The consumer is asked to sign, and there is also a place for the service tech to sign as a witness.

All of the items I have highlighted are important to any leak check program a marketer uses to enhance safety.

If you have a customized gas check program, be sure to consider the high points discussed here for inclusion in your program. From a trial lawyer’s perspective, these items are seen often in the cases we litigate. This new program tends to demystify much of the present battle ground in this area.

Always keep in mind that if you choose the new program, it is incumbent to keep the documentation of the inspections that you have performed. I strongly recommend that it be retained in document and computerized form.

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 jmccoy@mh-law.us.

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