Chain of Thought

More Messengers Handling Hazmats -- and Don't Know it.

It’s hard to gauge which blog topics will set off debate. The one we did recently on the transformation of messenger couriers into logistics service providers got two readers to engage in an exchange about the dangers associated with unregulated handling of hazardous materials.

We concluded that blog with the comment that the competitive costs of local couriers on bike and on foot can cost about 30 percent less than the best discount an established parcel carrier can offer. One of MH&L’s advisory board members predicted this will lead to the demise of nationwide delivery services.

Ken Holloway read that blog and wanted to remind certain shippers that using messengers to cover the last few thousand feet to the customer must be done with caution. He’s a trainer with Safety Specialists, Inc., specializing in the regulation and handling of hazardous materials. He noted in an e-mail to me that UPS started out as a bicycle messenger service, so they know something about the new competition. They also know a lot about handling hazmats—and which products are considered such under certain conditions. That’s knowledge that messenger may not have—especially if the company using that messenger doesn’t have it.

“From what I was told by DOT PHMSA the federal Hazardous Materials Regulations do not apply to bicycle or foot messengers,” Holloway wrote. “This was not an official statement but the regulations apply to MOTOR vehicles.”

I thought this was an interesting potential oversight in the hazmat regs, so I asked the MH&L board member who made that prediction about the rise of local messengers—if he thought this could be a disaster waiting to happen.

“The thought of couriers being on bikes is obsolete and anyone who would rely on a person on a bike to deliver hazmat is way away from a hazmat specialist,” he said.

When I relayed that message to Ken Holloway, he noted that bike messengers are still active in NYC, Chicago, Austin, Tex., and all over California, and he opined that they will become even more popular with same-day delivery of small on-line orders.  But what about Tompkins’ comment about the unlikelihood anyone would use them to handle hazmats?

“I agree,” Holloway said. “Not knowingly. But many companies do not know what is hazardous.  Most people do not realize or care that all aerosols and even small amounts of materials are hazardous.  All perfumes, matches, cigarette lighters, nail polish, some sport drink concentrates and more are regulated.  They do not know what ORM-D [other regulated materials for domestic transport only]means until they get fined for offering a hazardous material in commerce.  [Your board member] is thinking too big.  The majority of hazardous material shipments are small.  You find them on the shelves of almost any store.  Most stores have aerosols, some flammable paint, cosmetics, cleaning kits, food additives and flavorings (many contain alcohol), lithium batteries, etc.  In fact, as much as 30 % of shipments made by online retailers may contain hazardous materials.”

Handling hazmats knowingly and legally, following all the rules, can be expensive. Holloway told me about a client that’s a major online retailer and deals in drugstore items. They stopped selling some of these items because the costs to ship them as hazmats was too high.  But what about those who may be trafficking in hazmats unknowingly and illegally?

“It is not much of a stretch to imagine a drugstore having a person on foot or bike--or even a car--delivering a bag with perfume, hair color, nail polish and spray deodorant to a customer just a block or two away if it helps fill the same-day delivery commitment,” he concluded. “All of the products in the bag are hazardous and would have to have a ORM-D or limited quantity marking on the outer box if shipped.”

I trust all shippers raising their game with same-day order fulfillment will get this message. I think the courier from the below incident did.

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