How New Technology Streamlines Safety Inspections & Reduces Error Rate
BY ALEX BURNS
New technology is taking hold of industries worldwide. We’re seeing self-driving cars, articles written by artificial intelligence bots, augmented reality allowing people to spend time together in a room even when they’re miles apart, and ghost kitchens that make sales through food delivery apps and exist inconspicuously within the kitchens of your favorite chain restaurants. Clearly, technology is taking possibilities to new heights that many of us never imagined possible—and the propane industry is no exception to this phenomenon.
Fortunately for propane marketers and managers, 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. Excited to hear what’s in store for the future of the propane sector? So are we—let’s jump in.
What Can New Propane Technology Do?
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 1/3 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 have to do everything in our power to ensure our customers know how to use the product safely (such as not installing a generator within proximity of a tank set). New technology has the wherewithal to identify and flag errors for correction or follow-up, meaning those mistakes are fixed immediately. The benefits of this feature may extend beyond initial thoughts:
- Clearly, this helps protect your customers, employees, and company from propane-related danger.
- Next, technology’s error-detection capabilities mean that you can identify training opportunities and provide immediate feedback. This results in technicians whose skills are honed, because they remember the situation that is being discussed due to the speed of the correction.
- Lastly, which many owners and managers fail to consider, it’s extremely expensive to send employees back to the jobsite to fix issues. Technology’s insistence on getting the job done right the first time will save you billable hours, gasoline, and employee energy. Reducing repeat job site visits will increase productivity. When technicians complete their forms on a tablet, electronic form fields help to eliminate incorrect information entry and errors. This significantly lowers the likelihood that technicians would have to return to the location to correct their documentation.
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 to the old way. 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 they are working in the office or from home. If your management team identifies errors that need correcting, it can communicate that to the technician in the field right away. This helps the 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, often days, weeks, or months after it has been filled out, the technician no longer remembers 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 all their documentation digitally, your managers have a readily available performance log for each employee.
Prove Your Compliance with NFPA 58 Requirements
As you know, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 58) Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code has set requirements for DOT cylinder and ASME tank placement in chapter 6. These requirements are critical to maintain safe use of propane for customers and reduce risk for your company.
Well, 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 along the way.
You’ve heard that a photo is worth a thousand words, right? This is a great tool to evaluate technician performance and provide any necessary training feedback. Photos provide detailed, visual information for training purposes, helping you to 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. And even more likely, a photo documentation process will help avoid unnecessary safety hazards to better protect your customers in the long run.
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.
Streamline Customer Agreements
Customer agreements are critical documents that are 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 functionality such as:
- Professional, customer-facing forms
- Electronic signatures & damage-proof cloud storage
- Updated document accessible to sales, techs, and office staff in one convenient place
- Prevent liability from DIY customers—the cause of nearly 50% of propane accidents
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 documentation is completed on tablets instead of by hand on paper forms. Mobile forms have the capability to provide intuitive prompts and form fields to eliminate factors like illegible handwriting or incomplete documentation, opening doors to 100% accurate 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. Mobile documentation is truly a game changer for driver efficiency, documentation accuracy, and overall risk reduction for your company.
What If You Stick with Paper Forms?
Do we have to remind you of the drawbacks of paper forms, which many companies still use to document safety information and track important follow-ups? 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.
Transitioning from a paper-driven process to a mobile safety documentation program will eliminate hard copies being passed from person to person in your office. Technicians can complete their safety inspections, cathodic protection inspections, and interruption-of-service forms on a tablet. The documentation is automatically stored electronically.
That’s the best part about it! Switching to digital documentation doesn’t have to be daunting anymore. New advancements in digital forms and online documentation software have become the standard in our industry, and tools like photo documentation are something that more and more marketers are implementing to reduce risk, increase efficiencies, and help maintain container placement code requirements.
How to Get Started
Once you’ve decided to take the plunge into the efficient and accurate universe of mobile safety documentation, getting started is the easy part. Choose a software partner and get a trial of the service. Some platforms offer free demos to see if the software and company work well for your propane business. We recommend taking advantage of trials as a no-obligation way to learn more about digital documentation software and ensure your choice meshes seamlessly with your new processes and preferences.
Alex Burns is the vice president of the P3 Mobile & P3 Compliance System division of P3 Propane Safety. You can reach Alex at Alex_Burns@p3propanesafety.com or p3propane.com.