Saying something to eliminate risk acts as important industry strategy

May 4, 2015 By and    

On any given day, we can Google some kind of incident involving propane.

In addition to the old stuff on plaintiff attorney websites, actual current accidents pop up in the news around the country, reminding all stakeholders of the challenge to educate, train and facilitate customer safety outreach.

All of us in the propane industry have an obligation to reach out to those who distribute, as well as those who use our products. We must respect and appreciate this need to reach out as one of our most important strategies in achieving accident prevention and profitable growth.

The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) and its volunteer force of industry leaders have done an excellent job of developing educational information regarding industry employee training, as well as consumer education, warnings and tips on safe use – all designed as an outreach to promote propane safety.

These highly effective educational tools can only make a difference if they are used.

In fairness, the industry provides all kinds of accessible safety materials, but some consumers choose to ignore such important information. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

With each preventable incident comes a story about failure to communicate. Effective communication is about three basic elements: message sent, message received, message acknowledged. To that end, we must do our best to promote propane safety outreach.

With that said, the propane industry should not be legally responsible for consumers who choose to disregard code for convenience.

Propane products are safely designed. Most have to be approved for use under strict guidelines and engineering criteria. Yet, the human element continues to intercede in the safe use of propane.

Somehow even reasonably intelligent people fail to listen. Those same people might forget to wear their seatbelts, fail to signal a turn, drive in excess of speed limits and take unnecessary chances while being ignorantly stubborn about their right to free choice. Unfortunately those choices cause accidents, and those accidents can cause property damage, bodily injury, death, business interruption and damage to industry reputation.

How do we reach out to the ignorantly stubborn users of our products? We are all ambassadors of propane safety. That is why I try to say something every time I see a situation that could use safety outreach.

When I saw a convenience store dispenser with propane safety issues, I said something. I shared the link to the Chemical Safety Board’s “Half an Hour to Tragedy” program with the store owner; I contacted the propane supplier; I reached out to the fire community, and eventually an unsafe situation was corrected. Not without resistance or a struggle.

At a neighborhood party, I educated neighbors about cylinder sleeve rust, how to check for leaks when hooking up a new cylinder and how to turn the valve off when the cylinder is not in use. We actually found a rust belt under the sleeve of a newly purchased exchange cylinder. I then reached out to the exchange refiller about quality control and the liabilities for failing to adhere to code. They denied responsibility and were thankless for my call.

Last month at the airport, I ran into a volunteer fire chief from a small town in Iowa. I asked if he had seen the Propane Emergencies program, and he said “no.” I took his information and passed it on to Deb Grooms, executive director of the Iowa Propane Gas Association. Grooms promptly sent him the link to download the program.

If you see something, don’t forget to say something.

The other day Kevin Yanik, managing editor of LP Gas magazine, noticed a small cylinder and portable heater inside the 16-story building where its publishing company leases office space. He spoke to management and they removed it, eliminating the exposure.

Safety outreach can take many forms. It’s a great topic for your next safety meeting. 

Jay Johnston has 42 years of experience as an insurance executive, safety management consultant and inspirational safety speaker in the propane industry. He can be reached at 952-935-5350 or

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