Shipping Chemicals

March 19th, 2012 - How to navigate the hazards of transporting dangerous goods

At a time when security and environmental protection remain high on the global agenda, shipping hazardous goods around the world is becoming increasingly complex.

One of many new rules introduced at the start of the year, for example, states that most motor vehicles now qualify as hazardous sea cargo because of their fuel and batteries. They join everyday items such as mobile phones, cleaning fluids, polystyrene beads and even fragrances and flavours that are deemed dangerous because of their nature and ability to cause harm to people, property or the environment.

In total, the United Nations lists 3,496 articles as hazardous. Many cover multiple substances making them more costly, time-consuming and difficult to transport, says Kevin Phillips, head of chemical logistics at SDV in Tilbury, U.K.. The dangerous goods regulations are updated every two years for sea and road transport and annually for air, he adds, making logistics increasingly complex for shippers and manufacturers of materials containing or requiring chemicals.

Heightened security since Sept. 11, 2001 has also meant massive changes. “The realization that goods such as the peroxide in hair dyes can be used as dangerous weapons has had an enormous impact on transport,” adds Bob Pedge, head of SDV at Tilbury and dangerous goods safety adviser. “Ten years ago, shipping dangerous goods or chemicals was much less complicated.”

The risks of falling foul of international rules include hefty fines and significant reputational damage to companies, especially when it comes to environmental damage, says Pedge. “The last thing you want is your product washing up on a beach,” he warns.

Offenses such as wrongly declaring dangerous sea freight on documents are subject to fines of between five and ten thousand pounds on average, Pedge adds. More seriously, deliberately providing false information could result in custodial sentences. The penalties for wrongly declaring goods for air transport, meanwhile, are much steeper, starting at around seventy-five thousand pounds, he notes.

In any event, companies must budget for an additional five to ten percent increase in transport costs once they have identified their goods as hazardous, says Pedge. This extra cost includes a dangerous goods surcharge, adds Phillips, citing the example of a twenty-foot container carrying motorbikes that would be subject to a sea freight surcharge of between one and two hundred dollars.

Transporting dangerous goods also requires special documentation signed by both the person who has prepared the documents and the person who packs the container, Phillips adds. The Dangerous Goods Note gives information about the materials including the United Nations number that identifies the hazardous substance and an emergency response number.

Hazardous goods often need special packaging, says Pedge, citing the example of flammable oils for racing cars that must be shipped in special drums approved by the United Nations. The polystyrene beads used to make bean bags, meanwhile, require special ventilation because of the risk of toxic vapours.

Once companies have identified their goods as hazardous materials they must allow extra transport time, Pedge says. Most shipping companies require the delivery of dangerous goods between 48 and 72 hours before shipping, he adds. For air freight, the goods must generally arrive at the airport between 12 and 24 hours before the flight.

Shipping companies may refuse to transport hazardous goods even when in accordance with the regulations. All have limits to the types of dangerous substances they can accept. “The goods cannot leave unless all the necessary checks are completed,” Pedge says. “These kinds of delays happen all the time.”

Despite the precautions, Pedge states that “numerous” incidents related to dangerous materials occur every day from small leaks to catastrophic fires. Transparency is vital. “All parties involved in the transport of dangerous goods have a responsibility to ensure that they are classified, packed, marked, labelled and documented in full compliance with the appropriate regulations,” Pedge concludes.

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