Denny Eisenhofer will tell you that safety isn't everything when it comes to trucking hazardous materials. It's the only thing.
Eisenhofer, has spent 20 years behind the wheel of hazmat trucks and more than 10 as a fleet manager at Textile Chemical Co, Redding, PA. His fleet has the unenviable job of hauling acids, solvents, dry chemicals and a number of other hazardous materials from Ohio to upstate New York and Virginia.
The job can be especially nerve-wracking in the winter, when drivers must negotiate mountain passes at night in blizzards and ice storms because hazardous materials are forbidden in the tunnels used by other tractor-trailers.
Eisenhofer believes that drivers must respect the hazmat being carried and put safety first if they're going to succeed in this business. “If you are properly trained, if your truck is loaded correctly and if you always put the safety of your load first, you are no more a risk than anyone else out on the road,” he says. “Each of our trucks is equipped with a spill kit, complete with shovel, absorbent pads and sand; our drivers are trained to know what to do if the worst should happen.”
Hazardous-materials transportation is serious business on U.S. highways. Any trucker will tell you that the first tractor-trailer pulled over for a roadside inspection by state or local police will almost always be one with hazmat placards.
Violations of any and all hazardous-materials regulations — even those involving training lapses — are dealt with severely. Federal regulations stipulate a civil penalty of up to $27,500 for each violation; criminal penalties can go as high as $500,000, and can include a prison sentence of up to five years.
Rob Mayberry, manager of chemical transportation safety at Yellow Freight System, says teamwork is the key to making hazmat hauling safe. “While most of the burden for safe and secure handling and transport of chemical shipments falls on carriers, shippers and others can take some steps to ensure that shipments arrive on time, damage-free and, most importantly, without incident,” he says.
Shippers and carriers must take extra precautions to ensure that containers and packaging materials are in good condition. “Professionals understand that most hazardous materials are not to be feared. They can be safely handled, transported and stored by observing DOT regulations and best practices developed by the American Chemistry Council's Responsible Care initiative,” says Mayberry.
This includes making sure cartons or bags are free of punctures or tears and that bungs and closures on drums and tote tanks are secured. Containers should not be dented, corroded or damaged in any way.
Mayberry stresses that no carrier is immune from the laws of physics and road hazards. “The motion and movement inside a trailer can be intense. Yellow and other carriers make maximum use of air bags, pallet decks, load bars, plywood and other equipment to ensure that chemical shipments are secure in transit,” he says. “But there is no sense taking chances with packaging failure when it can be easily avoided on the front end.”
He adds that shippers and fleets must pay careful attention to details when completing bills of lading. “It's hard to over-emphasize the importance of this document,” Mayberry says. “The success of the whole shipping transaction depends on accurate and complete descriptions of all chemicals being transported. Because the bill of lading is your legally binding contract, every bit of information is critical.”
It's important to list hazardous materials first, in a color that contrasts with all other entries. Another option is to identify the materials by placing a letter “X” in a column captioned “hazardous materials.”
“Your description should include the number of pieces, the proper shipping name, the numeric hazard class, the four-digit UN/NA identification number, the packing group and a 24-hr. emergency phone number,” Mayberry says.
“The trade name of the product is a vital piece of information that is often omitted. In an emergency, obtaining the correct MSDS often depends on identifying the product by its trade name. The document should also indicate the total weight of the shipment and must be signed. Bill of lading information is crucial in the event of a spill or other emergency. It will be the first source of information emergency responders and authorities will check.”
He adds that each container or package must be labeled and be consistent with the bill of lading. “Make sure the label includes your name and address and those of your consignee. In some cases, it may be helpful to add your own identifying marks or labels.”
Properly palletizing shipments is another area to review. Mayberry says stacking cartons in an interlocking pattern can reduce the stacking strength of cartons by up to 50%, increasing the chance of damages and spills.
Training is critical to making hazmat transportation safe and secure, especially in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, says Mayberry.
In today's environment of heightened concern about hazardous-materials security, teamwork and training between shippers and carriers has never been more important, he adds. “All carriers are on alert to watch for suspicious activity related to transporting hazardous materials.”
For example, Mayberry says, shipments scheduled for delivery to a site that has no commercial or industrial production, such as a residence or garage, or for night delivery to a site that's not normally in operation at that time should raise some immediate red flags. So should consignees that pick up chemical shipments at the carrier's dock, pay cash for the shipments, or can only be contacted by cellphone.
Federal regulations identify a hazmat employee as one who loads, unloads or handles hazardous materials; prepares hazardous materials for transportation; is responsible for the safety of hazmat goods; or operates a vehicle used to transport them.
Hazmat employees must be trained, tested and certified; they must also have refresher courses every three years. All training must be documented.
Training must include general awareness of and familiarization with the different classes of hazardous materials; an understanding of how the driver's responsibilities may involve contact with the hazardous materials, and driver training for anyone who operates a motor vehicle hauling hazardous goods.
Although federal regulations do not specify length of training. The program must be approved by DOT, and employees must be tested at the end of the training.