Using past experiences to leverage company changes

September 17, 2017 By    

Looking back, there are a few things that I wish I had handled differently.

It’s not successes or failures that I would change, but rather issues dealing with emotions, politics or frustrations that ended up with bad feelings. Client disagreements, ethical disagreements and topics of passion have occasionally led me to hold grudges and cling firmly to personal judgments.

This topic came to my attention while attending our neighborhood night out last month. A neighbor who teaches at the local high school and I were visiting about my adult children and sports. While referring to when my youngest son was cut from the varsity hockey team as a senior, I joked about how, while it was 20 years ago, I would still not advise that coach to walk in front of my wife’s car.

The neighbor was also a track coach and remembered the controversial decision. He smiled at me and, with the voice of reason, said, “He’s not a bad guy, and he’s a pretty good teacher. I’m sure he looks back and might have handled things differently if he had the chance.” He added, “I think we all have past issues or decisions that if we could go back and change, we would.”

If you had the chance when it comes to safety, what past issues, decisions or non-decisions would you go back and change? What incidents or situations of others have helped you initiate safety action to prevent a similar occurrence before it happens to you? If you had the opportunity to do things differently, what changes would you implement in retrospect?

From Tacoma, Washington, to Ghent, West Virginia, from Toronto, Canada to Tavares, Florida, we consistently learn lessons about facility management, code compliance, training standards and equipment inspection via accident review. While we would not wish any of those accidents to have occurred, we are glad to have the tool of retrospective safety because it gives us the opportunity to handle things differently.

Lessons in retrospective safety also extend to our communications with customers due to propane marketers being accused of failure to be effective in their past duty-to-warn efforts. Manufacturers have also learned from past incidents to clearly communicate with consumers about safety exposures.

I have spent decades working on committees, reviewing safety material and designing clear customer safety communications. Certain words with unclear implications or bad advice given industry changes had to be redone in order to be effective and defendable in court as reasonable duty to warn.

To that end, I challenge you to go back and review your current duty-to-warn efforts. Have you sent the same exact brochure every year for the past five years? Have you considered breaking certain topics out, such as carbon monoxide, leak detectors, leak checks or unauthorized work? How about communication with landlords and renters regarding change of occupancy?

The Propane Education & Research Council’s product catalog has great material on a variety of topics. You may even find ideas for your own specific custom safety topic that fits customers in your area. Why not make these assessments today rather than look back after an accident and wish you had done things differently?

Retrospective safety is very much a part of our industry culture and has become engrained as the pathway to accident prevention and profitable growth. In truth, most of us in the propane industry influence the prevention of accidents every day and embrace the opportunity to do things differently as we diligently learn from others.

At your next safety or management meeting, take a few minutes for an open discussion of past incidents tied to specific company policies or code. Look back and list issues that have been corrected, training that was reinforced or customer warnings that were amended to be more effective.

Retrospective safety sets the goal of not having to regret not doing things differently.

Jay Johnston is an insurance executive, safety management consultant and motivational safety speaker in the propane industry. Jay is the publisher of “The Safety Leader” newsletter and author of the books “The Practice of Safety” and “A Leap of Faith Takes Courage.” Contact Jay at or 612-802-0663.

Featured photo by Kevin Yanik

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