Taking Responsibility Is Priority In Propane Industry

by Richard Fredenburg…  

We all know that life is full of responsibilities. As adults, there are aspects to our personal and professional lives that nobody else can or will take over. Some are major and some are minor, but they still fall on our shoulders.
Richard FREDENBURG LP-gas engineer at North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services advises propane professionals on safety issues reports Butane-Propane News the propane industry's leading source for news and information since 1939
I remember in my youth that my parents got me out of bed for school and church. Then they decided I could take on that responsibility and they bought me an alarm clock. They eased me into it for a while, making sure that I was up. Then they left it to me, even if it meant that I might have to miss breakfast or be late. It was a training process. It’s a responsibility that continues to this day. Some days getting myself up on time takes on more urgency, as not getting up may make me miss a plane or fail to get to the hospital for an early-morning procedure.

Many things factor into how we prioritize our responsibilities. Certain responsibilities demand the highest priority, particularly when it comes to safety. For example, staying on the right side of the road when driving would be of the highest priority, not only for my own safety, but for the safety of loved ones and others on the road. Not paying or being late on bills is not as critical, but it can have a long-term negative effect on my quality of life.

The wide variety of responsibilities we face each day is mind-boggling. Sometimes we have to prioritize them for importance and the time it takes to complete them. Consider this very limited listing:

• Deciding how we will nourish our bodies.
• Stopping for that yellow light or running it.
• Locking the front door when we leave while there are still people asleep inside.
• Taking time to examine so many things about this cylinder and remove the sleeve before filling it.
• Watching out for myself on my walk because I can’t depend on the drivers to watch out for me.
• Wearing the protective gear the league requires before playing this game.
• So many more!

As a propane retailer, you have certain legal responsibilities with respect to code requirements and how your actions may affect employees, customers, and the general public.

At a recent meeting of the North Carolina Propane Gas Association, I shared that the number of meter-seal violations took a dramatic upswing this year. Where the monthly rate had been 13 in 2017 and 9.9 in 2018, this year’s rate in the first three months is 26.3. More than double! Dealers are not taking the responsibility for ensuring their truck and dispenser meter seals are secure. If you want to avoid violations and penalties, you may need to assign your drivers the responsibility of checking the meter seals on their truck as part of each day’s pre-trip inspection and on a dispenser every time they fill its tank.

I’ve seen several cases where a violation and penalty were avoidable if the dealer paid attention. For example, a dealer had been penalized for not having meter seals on his dispenser out front and for some third-party dispensers he owns. When the inspector later learned that there was a metered cylinder-filling dock attached to the bulk tank out back, he wrote a violation for no seal on that meter. That violation could have been avoided by the dealer extending his experiences with other meters to that one.

Taking responsibility applies to many other situations. Deliveries and cylinder filling are major ones. The person most likely to be intimately involved in a filling incident is the one operating the truck or dispenser because they are right beside the container and at the business end of the hose. It is in their best interest to examine the container for safety before they begin filling it.

We know of instances of both portable and stationary containers taking off like rockets because the bottom blew out while they were being filled. One operator left a 100-lb cylinder laying on its side in the covered bed of a pickup truck while he filled it. He hadn’t checked the bottom of the cylinder for corrosion, and it blew out while being filled, engulfing the covered truck bed and the area around the truck with several gallons of propane that quickly turned to several cubic yards of vapor.

A driver was killed because the soil under the blocks of a 1000-gal. tank had eroded and the tank came down the hill when the extra weight of the fuel was added. If he had checked the stability of the tank or approached it from above rather than below, he would likely still be with us.

The person doing the filling also takes on some responsibility for customer safety for at least a while. Errors made while filling a cylinder or preparing it for transportation can be life-threatening for the customer. Will the employee take the time to insist on securing the cylinder in an upright position rather than allowing the customer to lay it down in the trunk? The employees must care enough to take their responsibilities seriously.

From a business perspective, it is important to always keep the customer in mind when it comes to all safety measures. After one of our inspectors corrected an employee after observing violations when filling a cylinder, he was told, “If I’d known there was going to be a test, I would have paid more attention.” I challenge you to consider if this is the attitude of a caring employee taking his responsibilities seriously. Isn’t each cylinder filling a test of the operator’s knowledge of safe filling?

I received a call from a customer complaining that the propane company said it couldn’t fill the customer’s tank because recent changes to the law made the tank illegal. This caller said other customers in their neighborhood were being told the same. The company said it would relocate tanks at the customers’ expense.

I asked the customer if this company installed the tank. On confirmation that the company had, I suggested that they challenge the company about the “legality” of the initial installation and that the company should fix its installation error at company cost. I also pointed out that consumer tank installation requirements have changed very little in 20 years and that almost none of those changes are retroactive. Is this a case of the company trying to pass off financial responsibility for its improper installations to its customers?

When our new inspection database started assigning follow-up inspection dates, we encouraged those with failing inspections to correct their violations within the 30- or 60-day grace period or to request an extension when they had a justifiable reason for needing more time. Those who take the responsibility of making corrections quickly will likely pass their next inspection. Those who request an extension will likely get the extra time they need. But, they need to understand that the extension is for a limited time and they are ultimately responsible for taking corrective action. If they shirk that responsibility, they may be inspected before they are ready, and that could end up costing them money.

New employees will not be able to take responsibility for various duties until they are trained. Then you will probably make additional assignments as their training and experience allow them to take on more responsibility. We hope you will continue to instill in them a sense of responsibility to do the right things for their own safety as well as that of your customers.

Richard Fredenburg is LP-gas engineer at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.