Scary, Crazy Rules

East Boston, Massachusetts

Ever wondered about the red diamond-shaped signs with numbers and flames  adorning some trailers? These are placards identifying Hazardous Materials.

We are HazMat endorsed. We can legally pull Hazardous Materials loads. This is a two-fer for the Carrier. Not only do we know the safety rules for the loads, we’ve had a background check.  When we moved our CDLs to Florida we had to retest for the HazMat endorsement even though our current endorsement is only two years old and get fingerprinted again.

The HazMat system lacks common sense, including the rules for hauling, the rules for placarding and the rules for signage.

Everywhere these loads are called Hazardous MATERIALS, on the endorsement, on the test, on the study books, the name of the guide of Hazardous Materials.EXCEPT some states use HC on the road and route signs. Why? Why? Why? The first time I drove into Texas and saw the HC with the red line through it, I didn’t know it meant Hazardous Cargo. I was expecting to see HM with a red line through it or HazMat with a red line through it. In Boston, they use both HC and HM.

Who made the rules? Who designed the test? Why is there no standard HazMat Bill of Lading when there are legal requirements for the Bills of Lading?

Parts of the Hazardous Materials section in the CDL study guide are written so poorly they are confusing at best. We need Plain English. The Florida study guide warns that drivers should check the glossary of terms.

“Some words and phrases have special meanings when talking about Hazardous Materials. Some of these may differ from meanings that you are used to,” it reads.

This is Hazardous Materials, it can explode, catch fire and create deadly fumes. The words should mean exactly what they mean to EVERYONE not just a commercial driver. We regularly drive HazMat loads down city streets with car and pedestrian traffic, next to residential areas. We need real, everyday words.

There’s this gem. “Three main lists are used by shippers, carriers and drivers when trying to identify hazardous materials. Before transporting a material, look for its name on three lists. Some materials are on all lists, others on only one.”

Why? why? why? This is Hazardous Materials it can explode, etc., etc., etc. It needs one list, one comprehensive, easy-to-find, easy-to-read list.

The big difference in the regulations is Placarded and Non-Placarded. There are nine Hazard Classes that include explosives, poisons and gasoline. But not all Hazardous materials ALWAYS require a placard.

HazMat loads must be placarded – warning that the trailer contains dangerous goods  – when the shipment contains one commodity of more than 1,001 pounds and there are other rules when the hazardous materials weight reaches 2,205 pounds. Some classes like Explosives must be placarded at all times, regardless of weight. Some loads require two placards, the Hazard Class number and another placard such as Poison.

The rules detail responsibilities for the shipper, for the carrier and the driver. But the buck stops with the driver to make sure that the bills are correct, that it has the correct information for emergency responders, that the correct placards are used, that the trailer is correctly loaded – some HazMat cannot be loaded next to other HazMat such as Corrosives and Flammable Solids.

The rules say that Bills of Lading must be written in a specific way to communicate what’s in the shipment should something happen.

The Bills must note, the official name of the Hazardous Material, the Hazard Class and the Official number, there’s a domestic NA number and an international UN number – WHY????? Shouldn’t a hazardous commodity have one number, so there is no confusion anywhere on any level. It’s the Hazard Class and amount of materials and how many Hazard Classes that tell me how to placard the load.

Each bill requires a 24/7 emergency response number. This information is  to be set apart so that it is easily seen on the Bills. I don’t need a hand to count how many times I have found the Bills set up so that the emergency information jumps off the page.

Big company, small company, every bill is different, every format is different. To me this is a perfect use of the ISO 9000 or 9001, the standardization people. For safety sake, we need ONE form that every company that ships HazMat in, out and around America uses. This is not something that needs competition to make it better – it hasn’t and it won’t. It is something that benefits all parties.

We’ve picked up HazMat loads at small companies which didn’t have the correct placards or the correct number of placards – a trailer needs four, one on each side.

My last complaint should make you laugh. Among the many rules drivers carrying Hazardous Materials are required to check the tractor and trailer tires at every stop. If a tire is hot it must be “removed from the truck and placed at a safe distance” until it cools.

Think about it. How the heck am I, all 135 pounds of me, to hoist up a 53 foot trailer loaded with 30,000 pounds of HazMat and remove a tire.

Giant jackhammer-like tools are used at the truck stops to loosen the bolts on a tire – the truck shakes, the floor of the truck shop shakes, you can feel vibrations deep in your chest. If I have a hot tire on the road, it’s at least two hours for the tire guy to reach me.

Who writes these rules?

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