Times are tough, problems exist in ongoing pursuit of success

November 2, 2011 By    

Lately I’ve been frustrated with propane safety. I guess it’s because I care.

I care about the industry. I care about employee safety, and I care about consumer safety. I care so much that I write a column in this magazine plus a six-page newsletter every month for marketer subscribers. Some days it seems to be of no avail.

I know I sound jaded. I may even get depressed from time to time. And as I look around the nation, I can see I am not alone. Times are tough – financially and spiritually – unless you have a trust fund. Business is tight; consumers are frugally cautious; cost reductions barely keep up with reductions in revenue; and safety can be a heavy overhead.

Thankfully we have PERC-generated safety material, which has proven to be a great investment as long as the costs remain reasonable. I’d say the same about CETP if it were not designed to be a profit center. Don’t get me wrong; I believe CETP is excellent training, but sometimes I question the financially burdened infrastructure.

Even though refresher training is required every three years of everyone who handles propane, many states are seeing the lowest attendance numbers in years. Many refill vendors around the country are rarely audited for such training. Everyone who handles or works with propane should be trained to do so.

What are the repercussions of accidents due to a lack of training? If there are no accidents, there will be no repercussions. However, if you read the news lately, we are still seeing accidents.

For some folks, the headlines are real. They involve family, customers or employees. The repercussions involve emotions ranging from fear to anger to frustration and financially punitive liabilities. They say you never really see the light until you feel the heat. Do we have a problem? As we say in the North Country, “You betcha.”

The problem is a failure to address or acknowledge the problem – which may be as simple as saying that “we know the problem but have no solution.” Let’s be honest. The problem is partly with you and me.

We own the dog to communicate about furnace safety, trailer safety, grill safety, plant safety and all other levels of personal and commercial use of the propane we sell.

That said, we should only be held to a reasonable standard similar to the standards currently applicable to utilities. You can educate and inform to a reasonable degree, but you cannot be accountable for holding the hands of daring consumers. Their humanity is a broad horizon.

I hate it when anyone gets hurt with propane, but sometimes it happens when people do stupid things. As Forrest Gump’s mom said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” It is impossible for any reasonable warning to overcome the acts of stupidity.

Specifically, for example, consumers could take training to be competent at working on their propane system. Instead, they look it up on the Internet, attend a two-hour home improvement class or take the advice of their beer-swilling brother-in-law.

Whether it involves replacing appliances, expanding the piping system or taking a wrench to a propane tank, such activities should be done by a trained professional. Code compliance generally reflects safety compliance.

So that is my rant for November. I offer these thoughts with grains of salt, an ounce of prevention and a pound of humanity.

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