Safety threats deserve concern

May 1, 2004 By    

Ever since Chicken Little claimed the sky was falling, we naturally dismiss
most threats as a false alarm.

Whether it’s a business issue or a personal issue, we readily buy into wiggle
room while we assess whether the threat is real. Justification for inaction
is easy to accept, as the repercussion seems distant and improbable.

At the young age of 18 a friend of mine once joked, “Anyone can quit smoking,
but it takes a real man to face cancer.” Those are ugly, hurtful words
to those who have lost loved ones to cancer related to smoking. Yet today my
friend is 54, his health is fine and the prospect of a shortened life due to
his tobacco addiction seems a distant threat. He sees hundreds of other threats
on the news that could cut his life short. He lives one day at a time and does
the best he can.

I’m not going to debate issues of health choices. Rather, I suggest when it
comes to propane safety we must take legitimate concerns and threats seriously,
even when the consequences rarely come true.

If I owned, managed or worked for a propane company I would examine those threats
that have created consequences in the past for others. You don’t have to experience
a tragedy to prevent one. Take just one known incident involving propane and
list the stakeholders in the process:

  • Residential customers and their families
  • Insurance companies that insure their property, life or health
  • Commercial or industrial customers and their employees
  • Insurance companies that insure liability, life, health and workers compensation
    for businesses
  • Your employees and their families
  • Insurance companies that insure their property, life or health
  • Emergency personnel and their families
  • Insurance companies that insure health and workers compensation for emergency
  • Equipment manufacturers and distributors
  • Insurance companies that insure their product liability
  • Gas suppliers, wholesale and brokerage
  • Insurance firms that insure their product liability
  • Plaintiff attorneys who do their best to associate liability with large
    insurance limits
  • Your company’s financial future

As my smoking friend says, “When I list all of the other things that can
get me it’s a miracle that I’m here at all.” That might well be the attitude
of some folks related to the propane industry, including customers. When we
don’t take threats seriously, why should they?

Threats that don’t seem real can foster false bravery. When it comes to safety,
are you fostering false bravery?

The answer is difficult to discuss. Maybe we can’t handle the truth. Often,
the overwhelming prospect of awareness makes us want to stick our head in the
sand. But that’s no way to live.

The first step in any worthwhile process is awareness. Before we move on to
alternatives, we must be honest about what we have learned. If we have an excuse
or business justification for issues of awareness, there is a good chance we
are not being honest about the exposure.

My friend may be honest in his assessment of his exposure. While he is technically
correct that it is his life choice, that choice will affect those with whom
he works and lives. But other than possible second-hand smoke, my friend feels
he would only be hurting himself and even that result is uncertain.

We have to be honest about the assessment of safety in the propane industry,
because the stakeholders are many and the threats are real. We have to think
beyond our own situation as individuals, as managers, as business owners and
as safety leaders. Safety threats must remain a legitimate concern for us all.

Chicken Little may have been paranoid, but that doesn’t mean she was safe.

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