Hazardous Materials are dangerous things: they involve cargo that could explode, projecting things at great speeds, or gases that could silently kill lots of people and animals, or things that can start big fires. When this stuff has to be moved from place to place, it’s a high risk event – and something that is heavily regulated.
1. Hazardous Materials are defined in the Code of Federal Regulations
Also known as “HazMat,” they have been defined by the Department of Transportation as:
(1) Hazardous Substances, (2) Hazardous Wastes, (3) Marine Pollutants, (4) Elevated Temperature Material (5) Materials identified in 172.101, and (6) Materials meeting the definitions contained in 49 CFR Part 173.
They include: radioactive material; explosives; material poisonous by inhalation; and compressed or refrigerated liquefied methane or liquefied natural gas, or other liquefied gas with a methane content of at least 85 percent.
2. Carriers Transporting Hazardous Materials Must Meet Special Criteria – the HM Intervention Threshold
When any motor carrier is moving a cargo of stuff defined by law to be “hazardous material” then that carrier must meet federal regulations on how that HazMat is packaged, moved, and labelled. The shipping cartons must be labeled; the boxes that the cartons are placed inside must be labelled; the truck or trailer must likewise be labelled. The Hazardous Materials warning labels are called “placards” in the law:
General placarding requirements are contained in 49 CFR Subpart F Part 172. Each person who offers for transportation any hazardous materials subject to the HMR shall comply with the applicable placarding requirements. Applicability of placarding requirements 172.500: Placarding is not required for infectious substances, ORM-D, limited quantities, small quantity shipments, and combustible liquids in non-bulk packages. Placards may not be displayed on any packaging, freight container, unit load device, motor vehicle or rail car unless the placard represents a hazardous material loaded into or onto the conveyance unless the shipment is in accordance with the TDG Regulation, the IMDG Code or the UN Recommendations.
General placarding requirements are contained in 172.504. Each bulk packaging, freight container, unit load device, transport vehicle, or rail car containing any quantity of hazardous materials must be placarded on each side and each end with the placards specified in Tables 1 and 2.
172.504 contains a number of notes and exceptions to these requirements. When two or more Table 2 materials are contained in the same transport vehicle, the Dangerous” placard may be used instead of the specific placard required for each hazard class. However, when 1,000 kg (2,205 lbs.) or more of a single category of HM is loaded on a transport vehicle, the placard specified for that material must be displayed.
172.504(c) contains an exception from the placarding requirement for shipments that contain less 454 kg (1,001 pounds) of Table 2 materials. A frequent problem encountered involves the 1,001 lbs. exception. The 1,001 lbs. is aggregate gross weight. Aggregate gross weight is the total weight of all hazardous materials and its packaging loaded on a single transport vehicle.
3. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Has Changed The Criteria for HazMat Intervention Threshold.
This month, FMCSA issued its new, redefined criteria for deciding which motor carriers are legally required to meet the federal Hazardous Materials intervention threshold. FMCSA made these changes so it would be easier for the government to spot motor carriers that were transporting hazardous materials and to insure that the carriers were doing so safely and efficiently.
In the future, motor carriers must face new thresholds in the transport of placarded quantities of HM; usually, 1,001+ pounds. Before now, the HazMat intervention threshold on motor carriers was based solely on their registration information indicating they transported any quantity of HM.
Problem was: some carriers who were not carrying placardable quantities of HazMat were subjected to the HM threshold, while some motor carriers that were carrying Hazardous Materials weren’t being subjected to the regs.
Now, the HM intervention threshold applies to American motor carriers transporting Hazardous Materials in quantities that legally require the warning placard (“HazMat”) based on operational evidence. They meet one of the following criteria:
- Inspection in the last 24 months where the motor carrier was identified as carrying placardable quantity of hazmat;
- Review or safety audit in the last 24 months where the motor carrier was identified as carrying placardable quantity of hazmat; or
- Motor carrier has a hazmat permit.
Trucks and trains and other motor carriers transporting hazardous materials are only allowed to move along certain routes, routes approved by the government as being safe for these kinds of dangerous loads. If you see one of these motor carriers with its distinctive red and white “Haz Mat” warning labels, then give it a wide berth.
Every big rig or semi truck on the road is dangerous in traffic; however, these HazMat loads are extremely high risk. If you are driving near a HazMat load, be especially careful – and let that driver have the right of way, even if he’s wrong to take it.
Be careful out there.