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The Top Six Hazardous Material Transportation Violations

The Top Six Hazardous Material Transportation Violations

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) within the US DOT is tasked with enforcing the nations hazardous materials transportation regulations across all modes of transportation.  The unannounced inspections of its agents of the regulated community, ie. shippers, receivers, and transporters of hazardous materials, just like you; has been found to turn up a relatively stable crop of violations.  This article contains a descriptive list of the top six violations found by the PHMSA.

One thing these violations have in common (especially the first five) are their frequent applicability throughout the HazMat transportation industry.  If you ship or receive any hazardous materials at all, including hazardous waste, then you have a good chance of being subject to the first five of these potential violations.  The sixth one depends on the quantity and type of hazardous material you offer for shipment.

The source of the information for this list is a PHMSA Workshop I attended in St. Louis in August of 2011.  The trainers, who were all active PHMSA inspectors, reported that this list was determined from inspections completed by the Administration within the previous year.  I’m sure that the ranking of these violations may shuffle over the years, but it is my opinion that the violations listed below will always be near the top.

The top six violations of the Hazardous Material Regulations found during inspections by agents of the PHMSA are:

  1. Improper HazMat Employee training record documentation:  An important distinction must be made here, the violation is not due to failure to complete training (see #2) or failure to document the training, but failure to properly document HazMat Employee training.  49 CFR 172.704(d) explains exactly what must be done in order to document the training in a form acceptable to the PHMSA.
  2. Failure to train HazMat Employees:  Not unexpectedly, failure to provide initial and recurrent training for all HazMat Employees as specified in 49 CFR 172.704(c) is right at the top of the list.  If you ship or receive a hazardous material (ie. paint, resin, solvent, cleaners, fuel, corrosives, etc.) in commerce, then your HazMat Employees must be trained and tested within 90 days of new hire or change in employment (supervised by a trained employee during those 90 days), and receive full training at least once every three years thereafter.
  3. Improper marking and labeling of HazMat packages in shipment:  With millions of tons of hazardous materials in transportation every day, it is no surprise that many packages of HazMat are found to be labeled and marked improperly.  The exact nature of each violation will differ for each shipment, however, whatever the violation they all have one solution:  an understanding of the Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR) and how they apply to the hazardous materials you as the shipper are offering for shipment.  It is the requirement of the shipper, not the transporter of the HazMat, to ensure it is properly marked, labeled, and the correct packaging is in the proper condition for shipment.  If you aren’t sure of your responsibility as a shipper, just read the certification statement near your signature the next time you sign a shipping paper.  Which brings us to…
  4. Errors on the shipping paper:  Every shipment of a hazardous material must be accompanied by a shipping paper.  For a commercial product the shipping paper may be known as a Bill of Lading.  For a shipment of a hazardous waste it must be a Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest.  Whatever the name, it is the responsibility of the shipper to ensure the shipping paper is completed properly.  As in #3 above, whatever the cause of the violation, the solution is a thorough understanding of the HMR, the hazardous material – or hazardous waste – you are offering for shipment, and what information about the hazardous material is required to be documented on the shipping paper.
  5. Not registered with the PHMSA as a shipper or carrier of hazardous materials:  In my experience providing HazMat Employee training I have found it to be quite common that employers are not aware of their requirement to register annually with the PHMSA.  I will have to save a more thorough explanation for another day as the criteria determining registration can be technical, but know that if you transport or offer for transport a hazardous material, including a hazardous waste, in a quantity that requires the vehicle to be placarded then you must register with the PHMSA.  More information about the PHMSA registration requirements can be found here.
  6. No Security Plan:  Since 2003 a person must complete a security plan if they transport or offer for transportation a type and quantity of HazMat subject to the regulation.  The current version of the applicability determination for the security plan can be found at 49 CFR 172.800(b).  “Current” because on October 1, 2010, the applicability determination was revised to better address real security threats and remove from regulation small amounts of HazMat not thought to be a potential security threat.  The requirements for Security Plan content were changed at that time as well.  If your determination of Security Plan applicability was completed prior to 2010 you may wish to check the regulations again to see if you are still subject.  If you were not aware of this regulation, please check the applicability determination now to confirm your responsibility.  More information about completing the Security Plan can be found on the PHMSA Security website.

There you have it, The Magnificant Six; which of these violations could an inspector find at your facility?  And while we’re talking about inspectors, keep in mind that it is not just the PHMSA which conducts inspections of shippers of hazardous materials.  If your HazMat is ever transported by an applicable method:  Air, rail, highway, or vessel; you may find your facility inspected by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or the Coast Guard.  Fines for these violations can quickly go into the thousands of dollars each; much more than the cost of a one day training session that covers all of the above and more.

Avoiding the violations and fines for all of the above, and more not listed here, begins with proper training of all of your HazMat Employees.  Proper training will not only completely eliminate #’s1 & 2 as a potential violation, it will give you the knowledge and tools to avoid #’s 3+ for years to come.