Although propane professionals are well trained to know what to do regarding safety, they sometimes can become distracted, Stuart Flatow warned participants in recent webinar. Flatow served as the Propane Education & Research Council’s (PERC) vice president, safety and training, from 2000 to 2019, and is currently offering cost-effective safety management and consulting services to the propane industry. In his session presented during the first Virtual Propane Expo (VPE), “Listening to Idiots Can be Hazardous to Your Health,” Flatow identified three crucial areas that propane marketers must be mindful of in order to guard against an undesirable safety situation: giving in to peer pressure; listening to those in authority; and caught “in the moment.”
Stuart Flatow Propane Safety Consultants speaks with leading trade publication BPN about the top three safety tips LPG employees should ALWAYS remember
Don’t ever give in to peer pressure when it comes to taking safety shortcuts. Citing the quote of Rear Adm. Grace Murray, naval officer and one of the early computer pioneers, “‘The most dangerous phrase in the English language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’”

Indeed. So why do it differently? Flatow used the example of checking for gas leaks. It’s been known to happen that a technician just smelled for gas. Or, checked for leaks with a lit match. They do so because someone senior to them showed them that shortcut. Most do not do this, but there are still some that do because of poor mentoring. Note: No shortcuts.

He stressed that propane technicians will listen to those in authority. Flatow emphasized a warning from Paula Laney, director of safety and training at Energy Distribution Partners (EDP), and former safety director for the Oklahoma Propane Gas Association, that has always stuck with him: “Doing things the old way isn’t always the safe way. We have to change our thinking about how adults work, and be cautious about whom we let help with on the job training.” You do not want to teach bad habits or have them continue.

“Being in the moment” refers to becoming so focused on the situation at hand that one forgets obvious safety rules. Getting lost in a daydream, performing services under stress or while ill, a family situation, there are a million ways people get lost in thought or act automatically without thinking because they’re “lost in the moment.”

Flatow referenced a 2007 propane explosion in Ghent, W.V., at the Little General convenience store. A senior service tech had decided it was appropriate to have a junior technician perform a tank-to-tank transfer, one of the riskiest operations in propane. This resulted in an uncontrolled release of gas that filled the convenience store and the area around the tanks.

However, the technician did not evacuate the store. Instead, four employees remained inside the convenience store and even hung a sign in the window that read, “Store Closed Due to Gas Leak.” Eventually, the senior propane technician and the fire department responded to the leak. But no one in authority ordered the store closed or the area evacuated.

“They got caught up in the moment and were not thinking clearly,” said Flatow. When the propane cloud inside the store exploded, the two technicians and two first responders who were all standing next to the propane tank were killed. The four employees who remained inside the store were all seriously injured, and the building was completely leveled.

He warned against letting one’s guard down when it comes to safety just because everything seems to be going fine. “Just because the number of safety incidents or accidents might be down, don’t assume the attitude that it’s unnecessary to invest in safety anymore, a refrain commonly heard from propane professionals during safety meetings; and words that are often later said with regret.” — Andrea Young