I had a startling incident at the local gas station less than a mile away from home that illustrated many of the things we talked about. As I was bringing the gas nozzle over to my car, it suddenly spewed gasoline like a fountain at high pressure and some of it splashed on a person who was filling up her car on the opposite side. I never had any idea this kind of thing could happen as I tried to replace the gas nozzle as quickly as I could without slipping on the large puddle of fuel on the ground.
After that I was in a state of shock for a long time. The first thing I did was to go inform the station attendant, who came outside and determined the cause was due to the previous person keeping the latch lifted. But ultimately he blamed it on the previous patron, and said nothing could have been done about, and he had no control over that.
The person that got sprayed with gas also went inside the station, trying to get access to a restroom, but the station attendant did not address her. Eventually she gave up and left, but not before I apologized profusely and tried to offer help. I am thankful she left on a cordial note, because I was the only one who expressed concern for her.
This sequence of events was traumatizing and I feel a lot of guilt for being the person to pick up the nozzle and spray gasoline onto the grounds and people standing nearby. I feel even more guilt wondering if I contributed to bodily harm, once I was reading more about the potential damage that can happen with skin contact or breathing vapors.
Then suddenly realized, something is really wrong with that gas nozzle. This wasn’t the first time I have had a personal incident or witnessed another patron where this particular nozzle clicked out or leaked gasoline onto the floor or on people.
Some safety lessons definitely came out from this incident:
1) Because I did not expect a hazard and was caught completely unawares. I had no idea how to do an emergency shut off other than walk through gasoline to replace it on the latch.
2) There appeared to be no safety plan or accountability on the part of the gas station. Their attendant did not take any kind of incident report. And importantly, why was there no care shown to the person who got the most gasoline onto her? (I was also exposed.)
3) There is an unexpected amount of guilt and feeling of responsibility that comes from being the final person in a string of systemic and human error. You still feel like you were the one who ultimately inflicted harm. I found myself needing to seek emotional support to deal with these awful feelings. When I close my eyes I still have flashbacks of the moment I potentially harmed the person directly and endangered everyone by disseminating gasoline in such a large quantity. What if a fire were to start?
4) Now that I have experienced the Telluride conference, I now see it as a dangerous event waiting to happen. What is going on with the design of that nozzle that even allows it to emit gasoline when it is not in the car? And also, if I have already have two incidences and witnessed another, I need to do more than just avoid that gas station to avoid harm to myself. I have a responsibility to report and bring to people’s attention if I am to take responsibility and prevent horrible things from potentially happening to others.
The Telluride experience has taught me that there are other avenues to take besides waiting until an accident happens and saying “I just knew that was going to happen.”