5 Ways Paperless Documentation Benefits Your Propane Company

Originally published in Butane Propane News in October 2023.


New technology is taking hold of industries worldwide. It’s taking possibilities to new heights that many of us never imagined possible—and the propane industry is no exception to this phenomenon. Fortunately, new technological developments will allow your company to reach goals more efficiently than ever before. In this article, we’re diving into futuristic technology features that are available today to help your propane company stretch its boundaries and increase productivity beyond your wildest dreams.

What Can New Propane Technology Do?

1. Reduce the Industry’s Shocking Error Rate

Our datasets show that the propane industry averages an astounding 30% error rate in safety documentation—that means that potentially one-third of your paperwork wouldn’t protect your company in the event of a catastrophic incident. Propane being a high-risk, high-reward product means that we must do everything in our power to ensure our customers know how to use the product safely. New technology can identify and flag errors for correction or follow-up, meaning those mistakes are fixed immediately. The benefits of this feature may extend beyond initial impressions, including:

  • Helping protect your customers, employees and company from propane-related danger.
  • Identifying training opportunities and providing immediate feedback through technology’s error-detection capabilities.
  • Saving money by reducing how often employees have to go back to the jobsite to fix issues. Technology’s insistence on getting the job done right the first time will increase productivity and save you billable hours, gasoline, and employee energy.

2. Provide Real-Time Feedback That Sticks

Once your field team and management see digital documentation software in practice, they’ll never want to go back. Being able to remotely review safety documentation right away is a huge time saver. Technicians in the field submit their safety inspections to your electronic database and your staff can easily review them whether in office or at home.

If your management team identifies errors, it can communicate that to the technician in the field right away. This helps technicians remedy the error quickly and serves as a training opportunity to prevent future errors or omissions.

Think about it—by the time you detect an error on a paper form, the technician may no longer remember the service call. This means the correction won’t be as effective, and you’ll likely have to repeat yourself more than once before the correction is accurately implemented in the tech’s future interactions. Plus, with team members completing documentation digitally, your managers have a readily available performance log for each employee.

Related Post: Documenting Critical Interruptions of Service

3. Prove Your Compliance with NFPA 58 Requirements

The National Fire Protection Association Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code (NFPA 58) has set requirements for DOT cylinder and ASME tank placement in Chapter 6. These are critical to maintain safe use of propane for customers and reduce risk for your company.

We’ve all crossed paths with a DIY homeowner—you know, the one who installs a generator alongside the previously compliant container set your company placed just weeks before? Fortunately, technology has a solution to this problem. Photo documentation has come into play in recent years with metadata and time stamps that prove your tank set was in compliance when the picture was taken. Using a photo documentation process will make meeting container placement requirements easier and help your team improve operational efficiencies.

This is also a great tool to evaluate technician performance. Photos provide detailed, visual information for training purposes, helping you offer effective coaching immediately. Your insurance company will love your photo documentation, too. Having clear photo documentation that the container in question was compliant with NFPA 58 and other federal, state, and local requirements will help protect your company from liability in the event of litigation. The photo documentation process will also help you avoid unnecessary safety hazards, which protects your customers in the long run.

4. Report Unsafe Conditions

Let’s face it — our field teams don’t love paperwork. We’ve seen more than one situation where the driver doesn’t fill out an unsafe condition report because with manual processes, these reports can slip through the cracks. When your drivers and service technicians are out in the field, new technologies and photo documentation can help ensure noncompliant equipment is recorded, flagged for priority follow-up and corrected to help eliminate issues and risks for your company.

Drivers with tablets or smartphones can use mobile services to take photos and report these unsafe conditions in real time, notifying your office digitally so that you can address and resolve the issue quickly and have documentation of the initial report in the event of litigation. Plus, taking a quick photo of a noncompliant system is much easier than filling out a report after the fact, which means team members in the field are more likely to do it consistently.

5. Streamline Customer Agreements

Customer agreements are critical documents recommended by legal experts for both leased and owned propane storage containers. New technology is changing the way propane marketers complete and document their agreements with features such as:

  • Professional, customer-facing forms
  • Electronic signatures and damage-proof cloud storage
  • Updated document accessible to sales, techs, and office staff in one place
  • Mitigation of liability from DIY customers

Related Post: The Reasons Why Your Company Needs a DOT Security Plan

Adopting Mobile Technology

If you haven’t already adopted mobile technology in your safety documentation program, now is the right time to make the switch. Mobile forms can provide intuitive prompts and form fields to eliminate factors like illegible handwriting or incomplete documentation, opening doors to greater accuracy and complete documentation that will protect you in case of liability.

Mobile forms are also a significant time saver for drivers and technicians in the field, as well as back-office management teams and supervisors. After a mobile form is complete, a copy can be sent to and stored in an electronic database where managers and office personnel can easily access it and generate management reports. It’s a game changer for driver efficiency, documentation accuracy, and overall risk reduction for your company.

What If You Stick with Paper Forms?

The drawbacks of paper forms abound, which many companies still use to document safety information and track important follow-ups. It’s already been said, but it’s worth saying again: It’s likely that as much as 30% of your documentation will have errors. Illegible handwriting will get in the way or follow-ups will not be maintained with the diligence they deserve.

New advancements in digital forms and online documentation software have become the standard in our industry, and tools like photo documentation are something more and more marketers are implementing to reduce risk, increase efficiencies, and help maintain container placement code requirements.

Alex Burns is the vice president of the P3 Mobile & P3 Compliance System division of P3 Propane Safety. You can reach Burns at alex_burns@p3propanesafety.com or p3propane.com.