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Hazmat transportation: Understanding the laws

Hazmat trucks are regulated by a number of agencies to handle situations such as spills. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Shipping hazardous materials is risky. Yet carriers are willing to shoulder the risk of moving them across states. This was the focus of a report featured on Supply Chain 247 that analyzed regulations surrounding this part of the freight sector.

One common source of regulations is the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act of 1975. It states its purpose is to “protect against the risks to life, property, and the environment that are inherent in the transportation of hazardous material in intrastate, interstate, and foreign commerce.” This law covers freight forwarders on the road, on the railway, up in the air and on the high seas. As these shippers are expected to cooperate with their carriers and their respective drivers, knowing the extent that each risk entails is essential.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) classifies the following items as hazardous materials for shipment purposes:

1. Explosives

2. Gases

3. Flammable liquid and combustible liquid

4. Flammable solid, spontaneously combustible and dangerous when wet

5. Oxidizer and organic peroxide

6. Poison (toxic) and poison inhalation hazard

7. Radioactive

8. Corrosive

9. Anything not applicable to any of the previous classifications enumerated

Shippers are at risk due to the following factors:

1. The risk for personal injury due to the hazardous materials moved around that could also lead to property damage if improperly done;

2. The risk of getting penalized by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a government agency under the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in accordance to the rules that said agency is implementing;

3. The risk of getting penalized by state laws with varying degrees as to which state law applicable and which jurisdiction may be applied when the shipper has a business address different from the state where such violation occurred;

4. The risk of getting even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) involved along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) depending on which violations are punishable under their watch;

5. The risk of bad publicity leading to losing business to regulatory measures imposed apart from losing any permits or licenses to ship hazardous materials.

Applicable penalties are enforced in accordance to the regulations implemented by the DOT, among them from 107.329 Paragraph 2 Part 107 which states that:

(a) For anyone who, with discernment, violates sub-paragraph (a) of 107.329 Paragraph 2 Part 107 of the regulations “is liable for a civil penalty of not more than $77,114 for each violation, except that the maximum civil penalty is $179,933 if the violation results in death, serious illness or severe injury or substantial destruction of property.

(b) For shippers in charge of “the design, manufacture, fabrication, inspection, marking, maintenance, reconditioning, repair or testing of a package, container or packing component” if it was proven that it led to violation of sub-paragraph (b) of 107.329 Paragraph 2 Part 107, making them liable for a civil penalty similar to the one imposed in sub-paragraph (a) as described in the previous bullet point.

Compliance to most of these regulations as explicitly stated in the laws warrants a safer working environment for shippers in charge of these hazardous materials. Insurance also serves as feasible factor to consider since not only are lives at risk in this side of shipping goods but property and future business opportunities as well. So working with a carrier or shipper with enough certification, training and expertise helps in ensuring that transportation of hazardous materials is done correctly for the sake of everyone’s safety.

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