Wringing Benefits from New Hazmat Regulations
With the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) Hazmat Threat Assessment Program firmly in place, motor freight carriers and drivers face a new reality. While the program itself grew from provisions in the federal Patriot Act, and requires states to impose tighter oversight of security risks, the ultimate responsibility for fulfilling its demands falls squarely on carriers and their drivers.
In a business environment where drivers are already in short supply, carriers are increasingly concerned about their ability to hire and retain hazmat-certified personnel with these new conditions in place. In addition, hazmat driver certification is only one of three main areas of concern the new mandates address. It's not hard to see why a lot of haulers are uneasy.
These three main program areas—employment security, facility security, and en-route security—present both a challenge and an opportunity for U.S. hazmat hauling companies. The challenges are obvious; the opportunities, less so.
Certainly, the cost of applying for hazmat certification has become onerous for drivers. In New Jersey, for example, the cost of applying for certification has increased 400 percent.
Equally certain is the fact that many carriers will have difficulty implementing new facility security measures. Should they retain a security firm, for example, when Homeland Security raises the threat level to orange or red? How will they control access to personal computers, and other information storage and retrieval devices? Once they've identified possible points of unauthorized entry at their facilities, what will they do about them? And how much will it cost?
Big Questions, Costly Answers
These are big questions, with potentially expensive answers. En-route security is no different.
Carriers may be required to refuse business if they can't immediately verify a customer's bona fides; preloading will become less popular as it often involves unmanned trucks sitting on tarmacs; routes might need altering due to the twin concerns of parking in well-lit, fenced areas, while adhering to new federal regulations on the amount of time drivers have to be off-duty.
So, fewer rest-stops can be used, and drivers are parked more of the time. Not exactly a situation that makes truck owners rest easy.
Still, carriers with the right infrastructure can gain a competitive advantage by complying. They can tout their ability to secure vehicles during the 10-hour mandatory stops—customers will look favorably on the opportunity to use truckers that maximize cargo safety.
Advantages are there to be used when a carrier finds them. Having a hazmat certification endorsement process in place scores points in a competitive market. And, carriers that offer hazmat training as part of their orientation process are already in the vanguard of supply chain professionals.
The industry can't avoid these regulations, so it should wring some positive benefits from them. Carriers should look at the increased cost to drivers to receive their endorsement, and the long wait period—45 to 90 days—to receive the license as a way of improving their ability to hire and retain drivers.
Paying up to $150 for the privilege of satisfying complex regulations, just so you can haul hazardous materials, will not seem like a worthwhile option to many drivers. For carriers though, helping drivers meet that cost may be a small price to pay in the race to attract some of this shrinking talent pool.
Though this plan is currently only for drivers seeking a hazmat endorsement for their Commercial Driver License (CDL), it is expected that all CDL drivers will soon undergo the same checks. As employers, carriers should start preparing now.