I used to work for a hazardous waste disposal company named Laidlaw Environmental Services in Pecatonica, IL. A frequent question I was asked as I directed the client to sign the Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest (Manifest) was: “Will I go to jail for this?” I’d laugh and try to reassure them that we had everything under control and they were not going to jail. But the question is valid: Can the person who signs the Manifest be held personally liable for errors and omissions on the shipping paper or in the shipment itself? The answer, is yes.
The EPA notes that its requirements for preparing and signing Manifests are based on the corresponding DOT regulations for the use of shipping papers for hazardous materials. Note that the Certification Statement in section 15 of the Manifest refers to the “Generator’s/Offeror’s Certification” and not just the generator of the hazardous waste. Offeror (sometimes used interchangeably with Shipper) is a term used by the DOT. You can read more about the responsibilities of a shipper/offeror, but in brief, per the DOT an offeror is any person who performs or is responsible for performing a pre-transportation function for the shipment. This definition is deliberately vague and creates a situation where there may be more than one offeror/shipper, each of which could be held jointly and severally responsible for violations of the Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR).
DOT assumes that the signer of the shipper’s certification will have personal knowledge of the waste shipment and its preparation for transportation. Not that it is not necessary for the signer to be an officer of the entity generating the waste, it could be anyone (vendor, consultant, employee, carrier) who is knowledgeable about the shipment and the applicable regulations and is willing to sign on the dotted line.
Whomever is to sign the manifest should carefully read the certification statement:
I hereby declare that the contents of this consignment are fully and accurately described abouve by the proper shipping name, and are classified, packaged, marked and labeled/placarded, and are in all respects in proper condition for transport according to applicable international and national governmental regulations. If export shipment and I am the Primary Exporter, I certify that the contents of this consignment conform to the terms of the attached EPA Acknowledgement of Consent.
Note that the certification covers more than just the information on the Manifest. You are also certifying that all aspects of the shipment are in compliance with the HMR, so be sure you are involved with the preparation, loading, and securing of hazardous waste shipments prior to signing the Manifest.
But what if I’m trained and knowledgeable, I do my best and sign the Manifest, but something is wrong. You’re saying I would be held personally liable? Me?!? Well, yes. Typically the employer of the person signing would be subject to enforcement actions, in situations of egregious or criminal violations, the signer could be held personally liable.
Don’t get caught out of compliance. Contact me for the DOT HazMat Employee Training and the RCRA Training for Hazardous Waste Personnel that will help you to ensure you are following the regulations of both the DOT and the EPA when you ship hazardous waste.