12 Common Missteps Resulting from Decentralized Hazmat Programs
Compliance issues with hazardous materials transportation can cast a wide net across an organization and impact many people and departments. It's not unusual for compliance in this area to be decentralized and not fall completely under an EHS department's or manager's responsibility.
Here are 12 associated problems that often pop up when EHS doesn't own the hazmat program.
- Not understanding the regulatory differences between modes (air, highway, marine, rail, pipeline). Employees must understand the applicability of modal-specific regulations. One of the most common mistakes is not realizing that FedEx Express requires all hazmat shipments, even domestic shipments, to be prepared in accordance with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations.
- Offering electronics, batteries, devices, and instruments mistakenly as non-hazardous. A lot of hazardous materials are not intuitively understood to be hazardous, including lithium batteries, magnets, and instruments with compressed gas chambers.
- Improperly preparing packages for return to suppliers. Too often, shipping/receiving personnel believe that returning hazardous materials shipments involve nothing more than re-offering it in the original packaging with the original markings and labels. These employees who have not been trained as "hazmat shippers" may try to wing it and figure out how to get it out the door and back to the supplier quickly.
- Assuming the competency and MSDS/SDS reliability of original suppliers. Too often, the safety data sheet (SDS) is relied upon as the primary source of information when it comes to shipping procedures. Sometimes, whoever put the sheet together may not have been as proficient about the regulations as they should have. The people preparing hazardous materials need to be able to develop their own shipping protocol from scratch, and not rely on the third party giving them the protocol.
- Not controlling access to shipping accounts to only trained employees. This is especially problematic when facilities are large, have many departments, have many department heads, or don't necessarily have one controlling authority over many issues. Trying to capture everybody who could be offering a hazardous material to UPS/FedEx can be a huge challenge. There needs to be a system in place where awareness training is given to anyone who potentially may ship something, and then providing a gatekeeper to process shipments.
- Inadvertently creating inspection and enforcement triggers. One of the big issues is not understanding the difference, from an enforcement standpoint, between highway shipments and air shipments. The most frequent hazardous materials shipping-related inspections at shipper sites are those performed by FAA. Random inspections based upon FAA selecting Dangerous Goods Declarations at UPS or FedEx locations are the most common trigger. Avoid the declaration through the use of exceptions whenever possible (Excepted Quantities - IATA Sec. 2.6), and the risk of an FAA inspection is greatly reduced.
- Increasing regulatory burden and liability by shipping by air when not necessary. The level of scrutiny, the chance of rejection, and the higher penalties for non-compliance associated with air shipments are all strong incentives to keep hazmat shipments on the ground.
- Improperly preparing hazardous materials for self-transport or hiring of untrained couriers to move hazardous materials. Self transport to support the principal business is the most common "Materials of Trade" (MOT) definition. The MOT exception is commonly used and offers great advantages in reducing the regulatory requirements. There are things to be aware of, however, including the MOT exception's requirements and restrictions, the third party transport exception, and personal liabilities that fall under the use of personal vehicles.
- Not obtaining the correct software, pre-approval, and/or contract to ship hazmats. There are some hazardous materials and carriers that cannot be offered unless pre-approval is authorized by the operator. For example, FedEx Express requires that Shipper's Declarations for dangerous goods shipments be prepared using approved software with compliance edit checks. In addition, FedEx Express and UPS require that all shipments of lithium metal batteries UN3090 (all sizes) require pre-approval.
- Not determining "competency" of hazmat employees. There's a big difference between a trained employee and a qualified and competent employee. Training is only the first step in the process. It's the employer's responsibility to determine competency since they are ultimately responsible for ensuring shipments go out compliantly. Learning-by-doing under the direction of an experienced hazmat shipper for a period of time prior to being allowed to prepare shipments independently is the best approach.
- Not training receivers in issues related to proper identification and emergency response. Receivers can be an important link, especially in the emergency response realm, and they are "hazmat employees." Actions taken by receivers may impact transportation and safety. It's critical that they understand how to identify incoming hazardous materials, especially those with exception markings, salvage containers, temperature sensitive materials, and radioactives.
- Not having administrative control over the hazardous materials program (security, registration, inspection preparedness, recordkeeping, reporting, etc.). Some hazmat shipping compliance issues are not strictly related to the preparation of a shipment, but are administrative in nature and require a person or department to often take ownership.
An EHS director/manager is well advised to either manage or facilitate the management of a hazardous materials program and look into the many activities and compliance areas impacting a facility beyond the shipping of wastes. Do it proactively so you don't get drawn into problems you aren't prepared to deal with.
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