Regulating The Transportation Of Hazardous Materials

We learn about the placarding system used for identifying hazardous materials beginning with our first hazmat awareness class. Recognizing hazmat placards is a key element of emergency response. These placards have proven their value on innumerable...


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Tens of thousands of other materials that pose similar hazards are addressed by generic descriptions like "flammable liquids, n.o.s." ("n.o.s." means not otherwise specified). This may seem irrelevant, but it is quite important to the fire service. Classification and identification decisions serve as the basis for determining how we handle a particular material.

Protective packaging. The packaging required for hazardous materials is the first line of defense in assuring that they are not released. There are various performance levels for packaging, based on the type of hazards posed by the specific material. All packaging must be designed to ensure that under normal conditions there will be no release of the contents.

Hazard communication. This is the source of the placarding system. Essential hazard warning information must be communicated through shipping documents, package markings, labels and placards on vehicles. These markings are critical for the fire service in identifying and addressing the hazards it confronts at incidents. Emergency response information and an emergency response telephone number must be provided. Package markings and labels convey additional information, such as the proper shipping name, identification number and hazard class of a material. This information readily identifies a package that contains a hazardous material. Also, the information provided by package markings and hazard warning labels can be used by emergency responders when shipping papers are not immediately available.

Hazmat markings must be durable, in English, and not obscured by other information appearing on the package. Labels must conform to size and color specifications, be placed on the package near the marked proper shipping name and be clearly visible.

Incident reporting. Carriers must report to the Research and Special Programs Administration (part of the DOT) all incidents involving hazardous materials. These reports are maintained in a data base (the Hazardous Materials Information System) that is used to identify problems related to the transportation of hazardous materials. This data base should be of value to the emergency response community in its pre-planning activities.

The DOT regulations are only a part of the federal hazmat rules. The Environmen-tal Protection Administration (EPA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) have adopted similar regulations that apply to industrial facilities, hazardous waste sites and other circumstances. These rules both improve local emergency response capabilities and provide the public with information about the hazardous and toxic chemicals in their communities.


Steve Blackistone, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is an attorney and a member of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad in Montgomery County, MD.