Preventing a Disaster: What Are the Top 4 Most Common Mistakes When Shipping Hazardous Materials?

Preventing a Disaster: What Are the Top 4 Most Common Mistakes When Shipping Hazardous Materials?

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Houston has had a lot of problems! In the past months, Houston has seen multiple hazardous materials explosions, leaks, and shipping accidents. The Houston Chronicle has reported on scores of truck and train accidents causing injury and death throughout the state.


But Texas has no monopoly on hazardous materials disasters. Any rail or highway transporting ammonia, chlorine, or other chemicals or explosives risks the health of the transporters and the communities through which they move.


4 top common mistakes in shipping hazardous materials:



  • Misinformation: Many products slip through the preventive cracks. Too often, potentially hazardous goods are handled by people unaware of their danger. They are often carried by average consumers as if they were safe and no-risk.



Items like lithium-ion batteries, small fueled engines, medical specimens, compressed air or gas cartridges, bodily fluids, contaminated instruments, fertilizers, and more may appear “innocent.” But you cannot assume they do not present a hazard. Some are highly volatile and unstable and should only be transported with preventive precautions.



  • Noncompliance: “Adequate” compliance is never sufficient. You are either all in or you are out. Compliance requires thorough, broad, and continuing education. Anyone who touches the material or its packaging must know what’s in it and what potential hazard it presents in detail. They must know the language, signage, and advisories, and they must have access to and mastery of Hazardous Material MSDS Sheets with their explanation of content, risk, and response.



But training requires more than education. It demands a change in behavior. Employees and transporters must inventory, wrap, package, and store hazardous materials more conscientiously than other items. This includes purchasers, receivers, packagers, handlers, drivers, and more. It helps, then, to employ a custom hazmat packaging solution for your specific product and product lines.



  • Movement: How you transport hazardous materials makes a big difference, and the choice of transport is not yours to make. Hazardous materials and the shipping logistics are subject to regulation. Shipping by air, highway, rail, or water, each mode has specific regulations on packaging, handling, and delivery.  



Those involved must also realize that moving from one mode to another bridges regulatory mandates. So accountable suppliers must anticipate movement from one methodology to another by opting for the most conservative compliance to meet the mandates of various governing bodies: Department of Transportation, International Air Transport Association, International Maritime Dangerous Goods, and more.



  • Logistics: Logistics often involve returns and backloading. Trucks will pick up materials so have a return load. Receivers will return goods for scores of reasons. These practices present the possibility of carelessness. The receiving parties may not be as well-informed and trained as the providers. The returning truck drivers may not be as observant.



Receivers must know to handle, package, and ship materials carefully and within compliance. The provider and receiver must establish and share operating procedures specific to each hazardous product line. Every step in the supply chain must know what the other is doing.


Preventing hazmat disasters —

The Department of Homeland Security warns, “The improper leak, spillage, discharge, or disposal of hazardous materials or substances (such as explosives, toxic chemicals, and radioactive materials) poses a significant threat to human health and safety, campus property, and the surrounding environment.” The DHS concern raises the bar on the issue. And, your business is smart to follow their lead.

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