Propane companies play important role following an accident

June 1, 2012 By    

It is well known that propane accidents can involve serious injury and property damage. The vast majority of propane accidents happen at sites where propane is being used to heat or service a home or business. There are accidents during transport, but those are relatively rare.

When a propane accident occurs at a customer location, the local fire or police department often calls the propane company to the scene first because the company can ensure that the propane tank is turned off properly. In addition, there is often a lack of knowledge about how to protect the propane tank during the fire-suppression operations. The propane company can assist local officials by advising them on how to keep the tank cool.

The propane company is also often asked to help in the fact-finding investigation as to the cause of the accident. This often involves intimate work with origin and cause officials, such as the state fire marshal. There is a de facto label placed on the gas company representative as being the expert on the gas system.

This is both a risk and an opportunity. Since the gas company is often on the scene early, there are some planning steps that need to be developed in each gas company to properly respond to these emergencies.

Each company should select an individual or a group of individuals who are to respond to a propane accident. This designee should be trained to give only factual information and avoid giving opinions on the cause of the accident. You will need to be cooperative with local officials. You will need to provide service records and relay what your company did in terms of service and delivery. But the old adage, less is more, is a good touchstone to follow. Or as Sergeant Friday used to say: “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Another important practice is to have your response team equipped with a digital camera. Photos immediately after the accident are invaluable. If you are one of the first people to respond to an accident, take a lot of pictures. Here, more is better than less.

Accident scenes change quickly in the aftermath of a propane explosion. The fire department will often conduct overhaul to put out hotspots or to look for possible victims still in the rubble. In the days following an accident, weather and vandals are known to wreak havoc on the site. Photos should be taken at 360 degrees around the site. Then photos should be taken of all gas lines and appliances. There should be close-up photos of the position of manual control knobs, knobs on all appliances, the gauge level on the propane tank, the regulators and anything else at the site. The accident site is often blown far and wide. This is important to document as it may indicate from where the explosion emanated.

It should also be normal practice to immediately notify your insurance carrier of the loss and retain an attorney. These accidents are not something lawyers refer to as the normal course of business. The actions you take immediately following an accident are unfortunately in anticipation of possible litigation. This does not mean you were negligent. It is simply an acknowledgment of the litigious world in which we live.

It is also important that all records for service work and deliveries to the site be segregated and retained. All training certificates of employees who served or delivered to the site should also be retained.

If your company ever finds itself on notice of a propane accident, it will be some comfort to have an action plan in place that allows you to accurately document the event and assist local officials in controlling the fire and developing the facts surrounding the event.

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