October 2008 | Commentary | Supply Chain Security

Hazmat Education Is the Best Response

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Today's logisticians need to be well-grounded in many areas of hazardous materials (HM) management and alert to the prevalence of these regulated materials throughout the supply chain—in the workplace, in the work process, and in distribution.

HM falls into two categories and three broad applications. The two categories are materials inherently hazardous and materials that are hazardous for disposal. The three broad categories include materials used to produce finished goods, materials used to maintain facilities, and production machinery employed to produce finished products and materials.

Strictly speaking, any material in sufficient quantity in the wrong place can become hazardous. In fact, many materials we classify as hazardous are essential to the function of the human body. HM rarely is consumed or expended within a facility, so transportation is always necessary.

The Emergency Response Guide (ERG), published by the U.S. Department of Transportation, serves as a quick, easy, and effective tool that can help logisticians identify HM and respond to incidents when they occur. The ERG has been updated every four years since 1996, and the 2008 version is now available.

In 1991, the United States began a complex process to align the 49 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations for HazMat Materials) with the rest of the world. We are at the tail end of this process now, and many 2008 revisions are based on technology and homeland security changes, rather than harmonization and standardization.

Here is a rundown of some HMs featured in the 2008 ERG.

Ethanol. The quantity of ethanol shipped to produce enhanced automobile and truck fuels continues to grow. This is an issue in terms of emergency response and fixed fire suppression systems located in facilities. As an example, ethanol and gasoline are both flammable liquids, but the foam typically used to fight a gasoline fire is ineffective against ethanol.

Lithium batteries. No other regulated item has had more impact across a broad range of product applications and processes than lithium ion batteries. But they also have a long and serious safety record. Both international and U.S. transportation regulations were recently updated to reflect the increased risks these ubiquitous cells present to shippers and producers.

Fuel cells. All forms of fuel cells present unique hazards, whether installed or in shipment. Currently, the focus is on educating and preparing emergency responders so they can take the appropriate action at the scene of an incident. This is a safety, security, and reliability issue when selecting a vehicle, as well as developing related training requirements for operations and emergency response.

Fluorescent lights. There are inherent dangers in green innovations. Compact fluorescent lights, for example, represent a significant hazardous waste disposal challenge. Despite increased energy savings, fluorescent lights contain mercury. This means they should be, and in some cases must be, recycled.

Consumer goods. Even seemingly benign products can result in special challenges. Military personnel, emergency responders, and outdoor enthusiasts frequently use Flameless Ration Heaters, known to many as heat tabs for ready-to-eat meals. Older devices, still readily available on the Internet, are water reactive and represent hazards in shipment, storage, use, and as hazardous waste if thrown away unused.

The ERG can help logisticians identify lurking risks and address associated liabilities often overlooked in everyday logistics processes. To download the current 2008 Emergency Response Guide, go to: http://hazmat.dot.gov/pubs/erg/gydebook.htm

In the meantime, stay safe and ask questions.

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