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Planning today to secure a safer future

November 12, 2019 By    

In the day-to-day rush, we tend to ignore issues that can pose a safety risk.

Provide employees with advancement opportunities to make sure a job doesn't become stale. Photo courtesy of the Propane Education & Research Council

Creating a solid plan for the future secures the safety of your company and employees. Photo courtesy of the Propane Education & Research Council

The reasons are many, but often underlying this lack of vigilance is the sense that what we are ignoring is not a big risk because it hasn’t caused a problem so far. We tell ourselves that we are keeping an eye on the problem and will tend to it when time allows. While this may not be a front-of-mind thought process, it is played out time and again in claims and lawsuits.

In an industry that deals with a flammable gas, this mindset can result in serious personal injury, death and substantial damage to property. It is evident the industry has a keen eye to keeping customers and employees safe. The vast majority of industry members make safety their No. 1 priority.

To avoid complacency that could lead to catastrophic safety failures, implement processes that support your safety goals. This is a multi-tiered approach to safety.

Electronic record keeping is becoming the norm, but a substantial part of the industry still uses paper documentation. Whatever the means of documentation, someone needs to spot check the paperwork to confirm it is accurate, complete and timely. Discrepancies will require some manner of follow-up to determine if the failure was shoddy documentation or a more systemic problem. The records need to be filed in a way that allows for accessibility should the need arise.

Safety at the start of a customer account is also an area where problems arise. I have seen many cases in which a lack of coordination exists among office personnel, the service department and the delivery department. This lack of coordination can result in potentially hazardous situations:

  • The service department sets up a new account and is required to send safety literature to the customer via mail or in person, but this does not occur until weeks after the account is active.
  • A new tank is set at a home under construction but is not filled to 80 percent so the gas company does not incur the cost of a full tank of gas.
  • A separate company from the gas supplier does the service work and connects to the tank for a pressure test and leak test.

These situations pose risks such as failure to warn, odor fade and leaks in the gas system, respectively. These issues can be avoided by confirming that customers have warning literature before a system has gas in it. Be sure tanks are always 80 percent on first fill and use POL locks or remove the regulator to ensure that the tank is not used until the gas company can pressure and leak test a new system.

On accounts that are already active, there are myriad potential safety issues that tend to slip through the cracks:

  • Does the remodeling of a home place the tank too close to the structure?
  • Is the regulator too close to an inlet into the home?
  • Are regulators checked routinely for date codes?
  • Are cylinders checked for requalification dates?
  • Are tanks checked for legible data plates?
  • Are underground lines checked for cathodic protection to ensure it is still active?
  • Are customers advising about modifications to their interior gas systems so we can check to confirm the system is still code compliant?
  • Do we monitor degree-day gas calculations to note any spikes in use and then follow up with the customer?
  • Is there a decline in gas usage that indicates a home is vacant?
  • Do we know what accounts have tenants? And for those accounts, do we have a clear plan to advise with whom we deal for out-of-gas situations and failure to pay?

Interruption of service and out-of-gas calls are a focus of many large losses. A clear action plan in these areas is crucial to avoiding losses. Late evening and weekend calls tend to be the most hazardous, so special attention should be placed on these calls.

John V. McCoy is with McCoy, Leavitt, Laskey LLC. His firm represents industry members nationally.

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