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The HazMat Shipper’s Responsibility to Offer Placards to a Driver

The HazMat Shipper’s Responsibility to Offer Placards to a Driver

As a Shipper of hazardous materials you may be unaware of your responsibility under 49 CFR 172.506 to provide placards to the driver of the motor vehicle for your shipment prior to its departure from your property.  During the course of my RCRA Training and HazMat Training (combined in one 8-hour day for only $495!) I have found that many Shippers rely on the driver of the vehicle (ie. the Carrier) to provide the placards.  In addition, they don’t maintain a supply of the necessary placards and would be unable to provide them if the driver requested them.  A close reading of 49 CFR 172.506 is in order.

First, let’s be clear that it is your responsibility as a Shipper to provide to the driver the required placards for the material being offered for shipment. There is no specified time when placards must be provided (ie. when a placard threshold is met), but they must be provided before the shipment leaves your property and enters a public roadway.  Again, if you offer hazardous materials for shipment by motor vehicle; then it is your responsibility to provide the required placards.

Therefore, you must be certain of the regulations pertaining to placard thresholds.  The full regulations can be found at 49 CFR 172, Subpart F.  However, the DOT Chart 14 provided by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) within the US Department of Transportation will answer most of your questions.  For most hazardous materials in non-bulk packaging (<119 gallons), the placarding threshold is ≥1,001 pounds.  Research carefully though, because the threshold amounts may be a lot less for some hazardous materials and for bulk containers.

What if I offer the required placards for my shipment, but the driver declines the offer as he/she already has them?  In that case – and only that case – you are off the hook and are not required to provide the placards.  However, I suggest you make the offer for every hazardous material shipment, including hazardous waste.  Don’t assume (as many do) that the driver has the required placards for your shipment.  Speaking of hazardous waste, the US EPA regulations at 40 CFR 262.33 require a generator of hazardous waste to either placard the vehicle or offer placards to the initial transporter for their off-site shipments of hazardous waste.

A question that has come up at a few of my recent training events is this:  What if I offer for shipment a hazardous material below the placard threshold – say, 500 pounds of a Class 3 flammable liquid (placard threshold ≥1,001 pounds) – but the driver already has 600 pounds of Class 3 flammable liquid on-board?  My hazardous materials are below the threshold, but combined with the existing load is now an amount requiring placards.  Must I provide the driver the required placards for this combined load?  The answer is no.  A close reading of 49 CFR 172.506(a)reveals that you need only provide the required placards for the material you are offering for shipment, not for the aggregate weight of all hazardous materials on the vehicle.  Refer to 49 CFR 172.506(a)(1) which requires the driverto affix the required placards to the motor vehicle.  In other words, you’re only on the hook to provide the required placards for what you offer for shipment.  You may wish to provide placards to the driver even if it is not your responsibility however.  Being right would be small solace if your shipment is refused due to a lack of the proper placards.

I suggest you make it part of your routine HazMat shipment procedure to ask the driver if he/she has the required placards and to provide them if necessary.  Also, perform an inspection of the vehicle to ensure the required placards are in good condition, secure, and visible on all four sides of the vehicle before you sign the shipping paper or Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest.