OH.com Exclusive: Rules of the Road: Tips for Taking the Anxiety Out of HazMat Shipping

In this OH.com exclusive article, an expert in hazardous materials shipping explains how you can work with your carrier to ensure the safe and timely shipment of your products.

An expert in hazmat shipping explains how you can work with your carrier to ensure the safe and timely shipment of your products.

It's a given. No chemical shipper wants to take a call from its transportation partner, informing it about a hazardous materials incident.

But just wishing those calls would go away won't make it happen - unless of course you are willing to work with your carrier on a course of action that emphasizes preparation, planning and knowledge about the rules and procedures involved in safely handling and transporting hazardous materials. That course of action can minimize those incidents and perhaps even eliminate them.

While most of the burden for the safe and secure handling and transport of chemical shipments falls on your carrier, some steps can be taken by you to make sure that your shipment arrives at your consignee on time, damage-free and most importantly, without incident. Here are a few.

1. Take extra precautions to make sure that your chemical shipment container or packaging materials are in good condition.

The professionals understand that most hazardous materials are not to be feared. They can be safely handled, transported and stored by observing Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations as well as best practices developed by Yellow and other partner carriers participating in the American Chemistry Council's Responsible Care initiative. Those best practices include making sure that cartons or bags are free of punctures or tears and that drums, tote tanks and drums have bungs and closures secured and the containers are not dented, corroded or damaged in any way.

It may not seem like much, but a slightly damaged container can turn into a big problem. No carrier is immune from the laws of physics and hazards of the road. The motion and movement inside a trailer can be intense. Yellow and other Responsible Care carriers make maximum use of air bags, pallet decks, load bars, plywood and other dunnage to make sure that chemical shipments are secure while in transit. But there is no sense in taking chances with packaging failure when it can be easily avoided on the front end.

2. Pay careful attention to details when filling out your bill of lading.

The importance of this document cannot be overemphasized. The success of the whole shipping transaction depends on the accurate and complete descriptions of all chemical shipments being transported. Because the bill of lading serves as your legally binding contract, every bit of information is critical.

The first rule to remember is that hazardous materials should always be listed first, in a contrasting color to all other entries or identified by the 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 (if applicable) and a 24-hour emergency telephone number.

The trade name of the product is a vital piece of information that is often omitted. In an emergency, obtaining the correct Material Safety Data Sheet, (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.

All information on the bill of lading is crucial in the event of a spill or other emergency. It will be the first source of information checked by emergency responders and authorities. So take the extra time necessary to make sure that all of the information on the bill of lading is filled out accurately.

3. Make sure that you label each container or package.

Information on the label must be consistent with the bill of lading as noted above. Labeling all pieces, no matter whether they consist of cartons, bags, drums, cylinders or tote tanks, ensures that they can be found easily if separated during transportation. Make sure that the label includes your name and address as well as those of your consignee. In some cases, it may be helpful to add your own identifying marks or labels.

4. Properly palletize your shipment (particularly cartons or bags).

It seems like common sense and it is. Stacking cartons in an interlocking pattern can reduce the stacking strength of cartons by up to 50 percent increasing the chance of damages and spills. Bags, cartons, drums or containers that hang over the edges of the pallet are particularly susceptible to damages during loading and unloading and from other freight being positioned next to it. Also, poorly stacked or mis-aligned cartons can result in the loss of compression strength. A crushed box is a potential spill or leak by the time it arrives at its destination.

5. Keep an eye on the weather forecast if you're shipping freezables.

Many chemicals and paints become candidates for disposal if they arrive frozen. So, make sure that you notify your carrier of any shipments that must be protected from freezing temperatures. Yellow maintains both a freezable shipping program and an insulated cover program that is available for a small surcharge. The freezable shipping program essentially relies on tight coordination, scheduling and communication at all stages of the move from pickup to delivery. We will ensure that freezable shipments are protected in terminal "warm rooms" until loaded and dispatched for over-the-road transportation and final delivery. The program emphasizes a Monday or Tuesday pickup so that transit times can be minimized and deliveries (in most cases) made before the weekend. Special loading procedures are also emphasized, including stacking the materials off the floor and away from the sides of the trailer. Shippers taking advantage of the insulated cover program will receive an extra measure of protection with the use of thermal padded material designed to be effective even during the most bitterly cold temperatures.

6. Be aware that some chemical shipments cannot be loaded on the same trailer.

It's critically important to notify your carrier about any incompatible materials when calling for a shipment pickup. For example, hazard class 6.1 PG I, II, should never occupy the same trailer with foodstuffs, animal feeds or medicines. Similarly, certain classes of hazardous materials have loading restrictions or are prohibited from being loaded with other classes of hazardous materials in accordance with the segregation table in the regulations.

Our drivers are professionally trained to identify materials that cannot ride safely if loaded in the same trailer. But don't just rely on their expertise. You are our first line of defense because you know your materials better than anyone. And if you ever have any questions about compatibility, paperwork or anything else related to shipping hazardous materials, don't hesitate to call the Yellow Chemical Help Line at (800)395-5446, option #2.

Even if all the suggestions above are followed, some hazardous materials incidents still may occur. In the event that they do, rest assured that Yellow and other responsible carriers are prepared to respond in a swift and responsible manner. In fact, Yellow's efforts to set standards in the area of chemical safety lead to the company becoming one of the original carriers in the American Chemistry Council's Responsible Care program.

In today's environment of heightened concern about the security of hazardous materials, teamwork with your partner carrier has never been more important. All carriers are on alert to watch for suspicious activity related to the transport of hazardous materials shipments. A shipment scheduled to be delivered to a location that has no commercial or industrial production facilities (e.g.: a residence or garage) or a night delivery to a location that is not normally in operation at that time raises some immediate red flags. Other oddities that raise Red Flags are consignees that pick up chemical shipments at the carriers dock, pay cash for shipments and can be contacted only by cell phone. Shippers can help their carrier partners by helping us pinpoint some of those suspicious consignees.

As a longtime leader in safe and secure chemical transportation, nothing has a higher priority at Yellow than meeting this commitment. And part of our Responsible Care commitment is working together with our shipper/partners to ensure that when there is a hazardous materials incident, we identify the reason it happened to ensure that it never happens again. Root cause analysis is performed routinely on all incidents. Our goal is to identify and short-circuit problems before they occur.

And that's the best insurance against getting those "incident" calls that we all want to avoid.

About the author: Rob Maberry is manager of Chemical Transportation Safety for Yellow and represents transportation services companies on the American Chemistry Council Steering Committee for the Responsible Care partners group.

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