In the world of hazmat transportation, a spill or hazardous materials incident should never catch a worker off guard. This is a time when careful planning needs to already be in place to ensure that the right steps are taken. It is a serious situation that necessitates an emergency response, and thus requires advance preparation.

One of the keys to a successful response is making sure the required emergency response information accompanies each shipment of hazmat. The correct information must be readily available to emergency personnel responding to the scene of the incident.

The info you need

Most hazmat shipments that require shipping papers must be accompanied by emergency response information. At the very minimum, the following information must be provided:

  • Basic description and technical name of the hazmat;
  • Immediate hazards to health;
  • Risks of fire or explosion;
  • Immediate precautions to be taken in the event of an accident or incident;
  • Immediate methods for handling fires;
  • Initial methods for handling spills or leaks in the absence of fire;
  • Preliminary first-aid measures.

The information must be complete, printed legibly and in English.

Conveying the message

The most common methods for providing the required emergency response information include:

  • Listing it directly on the shipping papers;
  • Keeping a copy of the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) with the shipping papers;
  • Keeping a copy of the appropriate guide page from an ERG with the shipping papers (the hazmat's basic description and technical name, if any, must be included);
  • Keeping a copy of the hazmat's Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) with the shipping papers (the hazmat's basic description and technical name, if any, must be included).

The ERG was developed by the federal government to assist first responders at the scene of a hazardous materials transportation incident. It enables responders to quickly identify the hazmat and hazards involved, and protect the general public and themselves during the initial response phase.

MSDSs list all of the known hazard and protection information required by OSHA for a particular chemical or material. To satisfy the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR), the MSDS attached to the shipping paper must contain all of the required emergency response information.

Who you gonna call?

Shipping papers must also include a telephone number that can be called in the event of an emergency. It must be the number of:

  • The person offering the hazmat for transportation;
  • Any agency or organization (such as CHEMTREC) that is capable of, and accepts responsibility for, providing detailed information about the hazmat in question.

The number listed on the shipping papers must be monitored at all times the hazmat is being transported, and this includes storage incidental to transportation. The monitoring must be by a person who is knowledgeable of the hazards and characteristics of the hazmat, and who has emergency response and incident mitigation information for the material, or by someone who has immediate access to such a person. Answering machines and voice mail are not acceptable.

Where are the papers?

The location of the shipping papers and emergency response information is every bit as important as what information is contained in the documentation. If emergency response personnel are unable to locate the necessary documentation, valuable time could be lost, resulting in the additional loss of property and/or life.

The HMR requires that the shipping paper is readily recognizable and available to authorities in the event of an accident or incident. The hazmat shipping paper must be clearly distinguished from other papers of any kind, either by distinctively tabbing it or having it appear first.

When the driver is at the controls of the vehicle, the shipping paper must be within immediate reach while the driver is restrained by a lap belt, and either readily visible to someone entering the driver's compartment or in a holder mounted on the inside of the driver's side door.

When the driver is not at the controls of the vehicle, the shipping papers should be in a holder mounted on the inside of the driver's side door or on the driver's seat of the vehicle.

Do I report it?

Whether to report a hazardous materials incident may be difficult to determine when a very small amount of hazmat is involved and the spill presents no apparent threat to anyone.

However, the HMR does contain immediate notification requirements for specific hazmat incidents. The requirements state that a carrier must notify authorities of each incident that occurs during the course of transportation (including loading, unloading and temporary storage) in which as a direct result of hazardous materials one of the following occurs:

  • A person is killed;
  • A person receives injuries requiring hospitalization;
  • The estimated property damage exceeds $50,000;
  • An evacuation of the general public occurs lasting one or more hours;
  • One or more major transportation arteries or facilities are closed or shut down for one hour or more;
  • The operational flight pattern or routine of an aircraft is altered.

There are also other reasons that require immediate notification. They include the following:

  • Fire, breakage, spillage or suspected radioactive contamination occurs involving a shipment of radioactive material;
  • Fire, breakage, spillage or suspected contamination occurs involving a shipment of infectious substances;
  • There has been a release of a marine pollutant in a quantity exceeding 450 liters (119 gallons) for liquids, or 400 kilograms (882 pounds) for solids;
  • A situation exists of such a nature that, in the judgment of the carrier, it should be reported even though it does not meet one of the other listed conditions.

Except for transportation by aircraft, notice should be given to the National Response Center by calling (800) 424-8802. Notice for shipments transported by aircraft must be given as soon as possible to the nearest FAA Civil Aviation Security Office.

Life saver

An accident or hazardous materials incident is the last thing anyone wants to see occur. Preparing for such a scenario should be one of the first things considered when transporting hazardous materials. Someone's life - even your own - may depend on it.

SIDEBAR: What the authorities want to know

When you are notifying authorities of a hazmat incident, each notice must include the following information as required by the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR):

  • Name of the person reporting the incident;
  • Name and address of the carrier represented by the person reporting the incident;
  • Phone number where the reporting person can be contacted;
  • Date, time, and location of the incident;
  • The extent of injuries, if any;
  • The classification, proper shipping name, and quantity of hazmat involved;
  • The type of incident and nature of hazmat involvement;
  • Whether a continuing danger to life exists at the scene.