A skilled worker who overlooks safety is not a skilled worker.
In Farmington, Maine, last September, employees at the offices of a local non-profit thought they smelled gas. Having discovered that the recently filled 500-gallon propane tank was empty, the building’s facility manager evacuated the building and called the fire department. Less than 15 minutes later, there was a massive explosion.
Investigations found two serious lapses at the center of the accidents. Days earlier, workers driving metal posts into the ground next to the building failed in their due diligence to make sure they would avoid underground fuel lines. Three days after that work on the building’s parking lot, a technician came to fill the office’s empty propane tank and failed to do a code-required “leak test” to verify the propane had been used, not lost through a hole in the tank or piping.
Had the workers called the state’s Dig Safe program, as required under the law, they could have avoided puncturing the propane tank’s fuel line. Had the technician performed the leak test, as required by code after a tank has sat empty, the leak could have been discovered before the explosion blasted through the office building, claiming the life of the fire captain on the scene and seriously injuring seven others.
A lack of skill may masquerade as simple oversights or carelessness on the job. However, the most fundamental skills for any job is fully appreciating the safety implications of ignoring policies and procedures intended to prevent catastrophes.
Skilled workers know the code and follow the rules. Laws that require licensures, as the state of Maine requires for propane technicians, and laws that require excavators to call the state Dig Safe program before digging are critical. Just as critical is the need and a shared responsibility to impart through training, and re-training, and continued professional development, the deadly consequences of failing to appreciate that safety is the core skill needed for the job.