You May be a Hazmat Handler if...

It’s no joke that many companies that handle consumer goods don’t know they’re handling hazardous materials. They’ll know soon enough, however, when their goods are refused by a carrier.

The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) is phasing out the Other Regulated Materials for Domestic transport (ORM-D) marking you may be familiar with by the end of this year for air shipments and by the end of next year for ground (though PHMSA is considering extending that deadline by one year). That means the packages of shippers who are not aware of this change may be denied shipment by FedEx, UPS or LTL carriers if they still have that ORM-D mark on them. What they’ll need instead is the new “limited quantity” mark (unless other regulatory exceptions apply).

Shippers who don’t include this new mark on their packaging could expose their entire supply chain to delays, according to Cathy Lada, marketing and business development specialist for the dangerous goods division of Berlin Packaging. The problem is, there are hundreds of thousands of products affected—most of which can be found on the shelves of any retail store. These include:

  • Drugs & medicines: including asthma inhalers, medicines that contain alcohols, and nitroglycerin;
  • Cleaners: toilet bowl cleaners, drain cleaner, some orange degreasers, aerosol cleaning sprays;
  • Lawn & garden: certain pesticides (esp. poisons or anything you spray, such as ant spray, roach spray) and fertilizers;
  • Home improvement products: aerosol-based products of any kind, pressure-based caulking.

“Many don’t recognize that what they’re shipping is a hazardous material because they don’t think of those things as hazardous,” says Lada. “They don’t represent a huge risk to the environment or public safety but are nevertheless regulated by DOT and need to be addressed.”

This regulation affects labeling, shipping papers, handling and training—and it designates companies that handle these products as hazmat employers. That means their employees involved in anything to do with the shipping and packaging of their goods will have to be trained every three years and be certified.

The biggest consequence of non compliance may not be that your package will be denied shipment and sit on a loading dock. If the package leaks or is otherwise compromised, it will be a reportable incident under PHMSA. It could also mean you will be fined by PHMSA and your company could undergo higher scrutiny and be subject to visits by DOT inspectors. Fines can be $1,000 per package or more.

“That’s a high price to pay, considering a pallet of paint thinner may be worth a few hundred dollars at most,” Lada says.

If you’re not sure what you’re handling is hazardous, the best advice is to keep Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) updated on all chemicals and components. These will tell you if what you’re dealing with is a hazardous material and, if so, what its characteristics and properties are.

Even then classification isn’t always so simple. For example, CPR dummies used in hospitals contain lithium batteries, which qualifies them as a hazardous shipment.

Even reverse logistics can be a problem, particularly in consumer product returns. Reverse logistics refers to a product moving back through the supply chain after it is sold. The product might be shipped by the consumer back to the retailer or manufacturer, or by the retailer back to the manufacturer, for example. Those involved in packaging or shipping the products may not be aware that there is a hazardous material present, subjecting that shipment to regulation and making the person’s employer a “hazmat employee” subject to training and other rules.

“Say you buy a lawnmower, use it for a little while and find it’s defective,” Lada notes. “You have residual gas in there, so if you take it back to the store the hazmat laws apply. Store clerks who are not trained in hazardous material handling and are responsible for shipping this lawnmower back to the manufacturer to get credit for the product may not consider they’re shipping a flammable liquid via LTL. Reverse logistics is one of the newest initiatives of COSTHA [the Council on Safe Transportation of Hazardous Articles] and we’re trying to work on balancing safety versus the cost to retailers and consumers.”

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