Take steps to establish proper training and compliance procedures

July 31, 2015 By and    

We never really see the light until we feel the heat. Such heat can leave propane marketers singing the blues.

After an accident, many layers of legal interests and bureaucracy will stand in line to examine origin and cause. They lay blame and write reports that point out safety flaws and recommend new rules intended to ensure compliance.

A majority of these findings simply underscore the need for effective training and unwavering compliance with current codes and industry standards. While the word “standards” might raise the hair on the back of the neck of those with their heads in the sand, it is the standardization of our practices that ensures compliance. It is the failure to comply that lands us in hot water.

New report
A recent report by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries highlights known causes and exposures as two propane workers were electrocuted in 2010 when a boom truck crane’s boom contacted a 7,200-volt overhead power line.

While the details are numerous in the 28-page report, one fact is clear – a boom truck crane was moving and storing tanks within a plant under or near power lines.

Such situational exposures seem obvious after the fact. However, this is not the only incident where poor judgment on site contributed to an incident due to failure to comply with industry rules and guidelines.

Many managers have walked by a situation that was camouflaged by the pressures of day-to-day commerce. I discovered a 20-pound cylinder running a dryer inside the mechanics shop of a marketer plant. The manager and safety director saw it every day. Overfamiliarity with exposures can lead to complacency. When we fail to inspect what we expect, it is usually because we have no expectations other than getting through the day.

Insurance companies have different forms of loss-control assistance. They offer training material and onsite inspections, which generate reports with findings and recommendations for compliance. Most marketers take these inspections seriously. However, some consider them to be a nuisance. I believe this is because marketers who do not appreciate such insight don’t appreciate the need for safety compliance. They just sell gas.

In many cases, post-accident investigations find that someone in the organization made a decision to fail to comply and the leadership of that organization let it happen. Long reports can make it sound complicated, but it’s that simple. Propane employees have to do their jobs as trained and comply with industry codes and standards.

In the field
There are many examples of powerful post-accident reports.

In 2008, a Ghent, W.Va., convenience store incident during product transfer resulted in the deaths of two propane employees and two emergency personnel. After a thorough investigation, the Chemical Safety Board published its findings in a dramatic reconstruction of the situation, origin and cause called “Half an Hour to Tragedy.”

In that same year, a Toronto propane company was investigated after a series of explosions resulted in the death of one worker, a neighborhood evacuation and millions of dollars in damage. The company was found guilty of breaching nine environmental and safety regulations. Two company managers were also found guilty of failing to take proper safety measures before the explosion, which occurred during an illegal truck-to-truck propane transfer.

No one wins when a propane incident hits the news.

Competing energy industries use these examples to infer propane is not safe. Post-accident reports by governing agencies go into great detail citing compliance failures and occasionally result in pressure for new rules and guidelines.

There is an old joke about a fictitious country western song called “My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend And I Sure Do Miss Him.” Similarly, don’t let a post-accident report allow a plaintiff’s attorney to run off with your insurance limits or the keys to your company.

At your next safety meeting, discuss your exposures with regard to compliance and training. Underscore the need for effective training and unwavering compliance. It’s a great preventive step for avoiding the post-accident blues. 

Jay Johnston is an insurance executive, business management consultant and inspirational safety speaker in the propane industry. He can be reached at jay@thesafetyleader.com or 952-935-5350.

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