The American Gas Association (AGA) launched a program this year that shows some great promise for improving safety at its member companies. Two hundred of these companies will be organized into peer groups of three or four companies based on similar business contexts. The objective is to develop best practices in safety management based on peer observations and group discussions. It is an all-too-rare example of peer companies opening up their doors to each other for the greater good.

It is also a great example of two advantages that can be provided by trade associations. First, it demonstrates how a trade association can step in to facilitate cooperation that benefits its entire industry. Second, it shows how trade associations can learn from each other at a much higher level. The AGA developed this program after reviewing similar kinds of activities in the aviation, chemical, fire-fighting, nuclear, rail and trucking industries.

How the program works

Here is the way the program works. For each group, experienced subject matter experts in gas operations, engineering and pipeline safety from each company will visit the other companies within their group to conduct observations and identify best practices. Primary objectives include safety management systems, pipeline safety risk management and how safety is integrated into worker procedures.

Secondary, but also important, are practices such as contractor oversight, emergency preparedness, damage prevention, quality control and workforce development. The nationwide rollout of the program in 2015 follows a successful pilot program in 2014.

You can imagine the benefits once each company has had a chance to observe each of the others and hash out their different approaches. Even among a small group of three or four companies, there will often be clear differences in the practices and procedures, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. After a little discussion and debate, they can weave them together, combining the strengths of each company’s approach and the benefits of multiple perspectives.

In the pilot study, consisting of 10 companies divided into three groups, it was discovered that consistent use of technology optimized for the user context was a key practice for safety. Another finding: permanent employees need training to develop their safety expertise, whereas contractors need safety training focused more on awareness.

Key takeaway

Imagine the database of best practices that could be developed if the AGA aggregates all company information into an easy to access, easy to search, easy to understand knowledge management database. This could lead to an order of magnitude increase in safety for workers at these local gas distributors.