AMU Emergency Management Homeland Security Opinion Public Safety

Making HazMat a Part Of the Workplace Culture

By Bob Jaffin
What message should transport buyers and carriers take away from Sept. 11 and from the articles and comments appearing in this and other professional and trade journals?
One answer is this: We have never integrated hazmat into the workplace culture or transportation standards, and we collectively have failed to realize how necessary, and critical, security is in the workplace and on the road.

The proposed rulemakings appearing in the Federal Register for years (specifically HM-223 and HM-229) cover these areas. The regulations do not need a lot of cosmetic changes. But, since the world changed on Sept. 11, we now need to devote some additional level of effort to the security side. The larger issue is awareness and compliance, which we can achieve only through training and enforcement.
Although we have regulations on the books, antecedents explain why compliance remains at an alarmingly low level. All parties involved share responsibility: the government, organized labor, and manufacturers, as well as service companies such as carriers, third-party logistics providers, and NVOCCs.
Effective regulations must meet three conditions:
1. They must have the power to cause the public at large to comply.
2. They must be known to the public at large, and be able to be used by the public.
3. They must be supported by a sufficient cadre of people.
To those who are willing to look, it is easy to see just how poorly the government has fared in all three areas: regulations are largely unknown by the public; have little public support; and compliance enforcement is spotty.
For years the maximum civil fine the Department of Transportation(DOT) could exact was $250, or in criminal cases, $25,000. In 1991, the minimum amount for civil penalties started to increase — first to $25,000 (at the same time the criminal maximum increased to $500,000 and/or jail time), then to $27,500. Now the proposed maximum civil penalty may increase to $100,000. What does this mean? That regulatory authority without the necessary financial incentives leads to lax compliance.
The need for hazmat regulations has never been made clear to the affected constituencies. Most efforts at education or training have been put forth by two groups of professionals: subject matter experts who tend to direct the message/language to their peers rather than us mortal folk, and by specialists from health, safety, and environmental areas whose own knowledge is regularly imprecise and whose own regulations often contradict the transportation regulations. All mean well, all contribute to improved awareness, and all fall short of the mark.
Commercial or federal training programs don’t necessarily fully utilize educational specialists, industrial psychologists, and tech writers/editors to deliver high-quality hazmat transportation products to their constituencies. The Center for Hazmat Transportation Education is already planning to deploy all those assets as it develops its distance learning courses and larger interactive markets.
The DOT has also recognized the training/awareness conundrum and created a mobile, non-enforcement unit with a nationwide team that goes out to inform and assist, rather than to train or penalize.
To put this all in perspective, here are some disquieting facts to consider:
Domestically and internationally, less than two percent of containerized freight at the seaports is inspected, and the error rate on hazmat shipments hovers around 40 percent of those two percent inspected.
State-operated weigh stations do not have personnel on duty trained in, or necessarily allowed to, enforce hazmat regulations. Most uniformed law enforcement personnel are not equipped to know when or how to approach a hazmat shipment or how to protect themselves and the public from exacerbating such an incident. In most states a special unit is charged with this enforcement responsibility.
Currently, cost-benefit analyses, risk assessment, perceived high training costs with no return, misinformation, disinformation, and lack of information all conspire to prevent us from developing a nationwide partnership to address these problems. The chances of hazmat transportation disasters from ordinary commerce is orders of magnitude greater than from any terrorist-induced incidents.
Both domestically and internationally, less than two percent of all containerized freight at seaports is properly inspected — or packed, it appears.
It would be simplistic and foolish, however, to look to the federal government for all remedies to this miasma characterized by disinterest and lack of oversight.
Here are some suggestions to accommodate the new reality and correct the faults of the past:
Congress: Stop legislating. Get out of the way and pass no more ill-conceived laws until lobbyists indicate that they are needed. Fund a much larger training awareness program.
DOT: Simplify. Follow the lead of the government when it told insurers to rewrite policies so the insured could read and understand them. Don’t write laws and regulations that only someone with 22 years of education can understand. Normal people, such as shippers, receivers, and drivers, have to understand them before they can use them.
Local government at all levels: Front-line responders need help, big time. Be ready to train a lot more of the first responders, uniformed patrol personnel, and transportation workers.
Here’s a question for local governments: do you have any hazmat transportation standards for tow truck operators allowed on public roads? Typically tow truck operators are first on the scene and can assist and assess danger, given proper training. Not everyone needs to become an expert, but people need to know enough to know that they do not know enough.
All segments of the commercial market: Money talks. Invest in much fuller training for many more employees. It does not have to be overly expensive or intrusive. It’s like insurance — the lowest up-front cost is seldom the best value. This is one place that quality really counts.
Organized labor: Prod to protect. Recognize that it is unlikely that, without encouragement, many employers will invest in training that does not clearly offer measurable ROI. That said, the onus is on organized labor to protect the intangible features of a safe and secure environment — not just in the workplace but on the roads, rails, waterways, and skyways. Take the lead and fund training development and research.
Workers: push your union to act. You are entitled to expect a lot from an organization that collects dues from you.

Bob Jaffin is currently a program manager for Military Studies and Public Safety degree programs at AMU.
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