What Does the Laptop Ban Mean for Travelers?

Cargo loading on aircraft

Recent Airline Laptop Ban

On March 25, 2017, the United States government implemented a ban on passengers bringing carry-on electronic devices such as laptops on board certain airlines. This ban will affect electronics that exceed the size of a cellphone—typical products that will be banned include laptop computers, tablets such as the iPad and Android versions, gaming devices larger than a cellphone, DVD players, and portable printers and scanners. These devices may still be carried by travelers, but must be stowed in checked luggage during the flight. Medical devices will be exempted from the restrictions.

The ban affects flights leaving from ten airports in eight Middle Eastern countries.

Airports Involved in the Ban:

  • Abu Dhabi International Airport, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  • Ataturk International Airport, Istanbul, Turkey
  • Cairo International Airport, Cairo, Egypt
  • Dubai International Airport, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Hamad International Airport, Doha, Qatar
  • King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • King Khalid International Airport, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait International Airport, Kuwait City, Kuwait
  • Mohammed V Airport, Casablanca, Morocco
  • Queen Alia International Airport, Amman, Jordan

The ban affects flights of the following airlines leaving from any airports listed above:

  • EgyptAir
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • Kuwait Airways
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines
  • Saudia
  • Turkish Airlines

The ban is intended to only apply to direct flights from these locations to the U.S., which would total just about 50 flights a day. If a traveler were to make a connection, say, in Frankfurt or Paris, the ban would not apply. (One imagines some very jealous passengers watching others enjoying their electronic entertainment simply because they boarded at a different airport.)

Why a Ban?

The exact concerns that triggered the ban is not clear. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has cited a “sophisticated” laptop bomb involved in an incident on board a Daallo Airlines flight in 2016. This new development in explosive devices could, it’s feared, be smuggled past security in countries with laxer procedures for inspecting carry-on baggage. If a powerful bomb could be hidden in a relatively small device, it would make detection difficult.

But why permit these potentially lethal devices in checked baggage? It appears that intelligence believes that such devices would require direct triggering, rather than a timer or remote control. In the cargo compartment these devices would be electronically isolated from commands by Bluetooth or similar means, and they would probably be too small to include an effective timer. In addition, such devices would, due to their small size, have a relatively small explosive radius. By requiring them to be checked, terrorists may be prevented from positioning the bombs in an effective manner. Other experts claim that the ban would do little to prevent a bomb from being detonated in an aircraft hold.

To add to the confusion, the United Kingdom (UK) has created its own list of fourteen restricted airlines, only four of which are on the U.S. list. Canada is also contemplating implementing a similar ban. Canadian Minister of Transport Marc Garneau has discussed the ban with Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, but no restrictions affecting Canada have yet been announced.

Does the Ban Introduce New Dangers to Aircraft?

Protecting air travel against terrorism and protecting against hazardous materials sometimes are clashing goals. After the “shoe bombing” incident, DHS started to ban matches and lighters in carry-on baggage. They advised travellers that they should put these goods in their checked luggage, apparently unaware that this would put the travellers in violation of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules banning such articles.

The problem with electronic devices is that they generally contain lithium batteries. Such batteries have caused multiple incidents on aircraft due to their tendency to overheat and catch fire if damaged or improperly handled. Travellers can consult the Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR), published by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for guidance on carrying electronic devices that contain lithium batteries.

According to Table 2.3.A, Provisions for Dangerous Goods Carried by Passengers or Crew, “[p]ortable electronic devices containing lithium metal or lithium ion cells or batteries, including medical devices such as portable oxygen concentrators (POC) and consumer electronics such as cameras, mobile phones, laptops and tablets, when carried by passengers or crew for personal use (see” are allowed as carry-on or as checked baggage. However, the provision goes on to note “[f]or lithium metal batteries the lithium metal content must not exceed 2 g and for lithium ion batteries the Watt-hour rating must not exceed 100 Wh.” These levels are usually met by consumer electronics, but it is a good idea to check the manufacturer’s specifications to be sure.

A further requirement is that when such devices are put in checked baggage passenger must take measures to prevent unintentional activation. While most such devices protect the on/off switch by their design, some (such as the iPad) could be turned on during flight by bumping the power button, and must therefore be cushioned in some manner to prevent this.

In the past, airlines have recommended that portable electronics be kept in the passenger compartment. Lithium battery fires can get out of control in the hold of an aircraft, while in the passenger compartment trained flight crews can quickly access the device and extinguish it. Placing more consumer electronics in inaccessible holds will, ironically, increase the risk from lithium fires.

Spending hours on overseas flights without our digital assistants for work and play would be much different from the experience most travellers have come to take for granted. The U.S. ban on portable electronics is currently temporary, due to expire in October, but much will depend on what happens over the next few months. If a legitimate threat is found, the ban could well become permanent or spread to other airlines and departure points. Additionally, the risk of terrorist attack must be balanced against the threat of lithium battery fires in aircraft holds.

As always, the airlines may have their own standards or ways of implementing these rules. If you have an electronic device that you wish to fly with, and you’re planning a trip that would be affected by the ban, consult with the airline in advance. They can confirm if, say, the new Nintendo Switch handheld console is an acceptable size.

Are you planning on travelling with portable electronic devices, and need to know how to do it safely? Our regulatory staff at ICC Compliance Center will be happy to help. Just contact us at 1.888.442-.628 (USA) or 1.888.977.4834 (Canada).

Deer Crossing Sign
Are Highway Warning Signs Effective?

How Well Do Driving Safety Signs Work?

A few years ago, someone wrote an irate letter to his local newspaper about the deer warning signs put up on a local highway. He couldn’t understand why they were always on busy highways. Wouldn’t it reduce accidents if the deer were told to cross smaller roads instead?

We may laugh, but the story does bring up an interesting point. Just how effective are traffic warning signs? They can be found wherever we travel, from the common “sharp curve ahead” to the more esoteric, such as the “moose warning” signs in Newfoundland. Highway safety departments consider them an important part of improving driving safety. But how well do they work?

Apparently, the answer is somewhere between “not great” and “we’re not sure.” There’s little research on the effectiveness of highway traffic signs and what there is shows that a surprising lack of effectiveness. For example, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has admitted:

“Signs that alert drivers to infrequent encounters or possible situations–such as deer crossing or children playing—do not have a consistent impact on driver behavior. Widespread use or misuse of warning signs reduces their overall effectiveness.”

Traffic and Why We Drive The Way We Drive

Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), says:

“[D]rivers routinely see signs warning of deer crossings (in the United States) or elephant crossings (in Sri Lanka) or camel signs (in Tunisia). It is difficult to say what is going on in the mind of a driver whenever he or she sees a deer or elephant or camel crossing sign, but studies have shown that most drivers do not change their speed at all.”

Surprisingly little work has been put into studying the effectiveness of traffic signs, considering how they can be seen on every highway or busy city street. What studies have been done have not shown signage has a strong effect on reducing accidents in dangerous areas. In fact, many experts believe that the main purpose of traffic warning signs is not to reduce accidents but to provide liability protection for the government that posts them.

Why Aren’t They Successful?

So, why don’t traffic signs work like they should? Many reasons are likely at play. Marc Green, in his article The Psychology of Warnings says compliance with warning signs involves the driver making a cost-benefit analysis, where he or she balances the following factors:

  1. Cost of compliance – most traffic signs, in their most basic message, say “slow down, because something ahead is dangerous.” The driver will (consciously or not) factor in the inconvenience of being late, or their dislike of being slow, as part of the cost of compliance. Green notes this is a similar problem with product warning labels. “Increased time reading” can be seen as a “cost of compliance”. Who’s going to read an entire product label when there’s a rush job to be done?
  2. Danger perception – this is the old risk versus hazard issue. Most drivers will stop at stop signs, because they understand that if they don’t, they significantly increase their risk of getting hit. But if you drive a road for years and never see a deer, you may come to feel that even if the consequences of hitting a deer are high, the risk of that ever happening is low. Paradoxically, people who feel confident in their driving skills more likely to ignore such signs. Green points out “[o]ne of the ironies of warnings is that the more experienced and skilled the viewer, the stronger the familiarization effect and the more likely that the warning will be ignored. For example, diving team members are the most likely people to ignore “no diving” signs.” Further, herd behavior can be a factor; if everyone speeds, it appears to be safer than if everyone slows down.

Each driver will evaluate these two factors and make a (perhaps unconscious) decision to obey the sign or to ignore it and risk something nasty happening down the road.

Complying & Understanding

There are many ways safety experts are now working to determine what psychological factors make people decide to obey traffic signs. For example, the effectiveness of signs can be diluted if they appear everywhere, so signs may be posted only where significant hazards truly exist. Green mentions

“People have unconsciously learned the general rule that signs and signals grow in size and vividness with their importance, presumably so that they will be more readily seen. Viewers will then likely interpret warnings that are small, faint, or located peripherally as signaling lower risk.”

These factors apply to all drivers, but they also are an important issue for workplace and consumer safety labels. Designers of OSHA or WHMIS labels must, of course, comply with the regulations, but understanding the psychology of safety warnings is also important when trying to create an effective label design. The label must be able to persuade the reader that compliance is really the most cost-beneficial response. By studying what we’ve learned about highway signs, we can learn what psychological nuances improve the likelihood that users will comply with the label.

Fortunately, OSHA and WHMIS labels include precautionary phrases that specifically instruct the user in what to do to ensure safety, a feature sometimes lacking in traffic signs. For example, when confronted by a “falling rocks” sign, what should a driver do? Avoid the area? Wear a hard hat when going through the zone? And I was always perplexed on how drivers transversing a typical single-lane Scottish highway were expected to respond to the ominous warning on blind curves – “Oncoming traffic may be in centre of road” – that gave drivers no suggestion for how to negotiate the curve safely.

Have you seen any particularly effective or ineffective traffic signs? If so, let us know in the comment section. And if you have questions about labelling for workplace or transportation safety, contact ICC Compliance Center at 1.888.442.9628 (USA) or 1.888.977.4834 (Canada).

PHMSA Update
U.S. Final Rule HM-215N on International Harmonization Delayed

Regulatory Freeze Delays Final Rule HM-215N

The Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) of the Department of Transportation (DOT) has withdrawn a Final Rule that was intended to be published in the Federal Register on January 26.

The Final Rule, HM-215N, would have updated the U.S. “Hazardous Materials Regulations” to reflect international standards, improving U.S. abilities to import and export hazardous materials as well as reflecting improved safety standards. However, due to the new administration’s Regulatory Freeze executive memorandum, regulatory changes that had been sent to the Federal Register but not already approved must be immediately withdrawn for “review and approval” before being reissued. While the text of the Final Rule had already been published on PHMSA’s website on January 18th, it had not yet appeared in the Federal Register. The Regulatory Freeze took effect as of January 20.

Since this update is relatively non-controversial for stakeholders in the transportation industry, and will improve the ability of the United States to compete internationally, it is hoped that the review and approval time will be short. However, until the Final Rule can be published, the hazmat community must wait for the anticipated harmonization of U.S. regulations with international standards. These include proposed changes such as:

  • the adoption of the latest versions of the UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, the ICAO Technical Instruction’s on the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods, the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code and Canadian “Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations”;
  • the extension of Transport Canada equivalency certificates to the U.S. portions of transborder shipments;
  • a set of new shipping descriptions for products such as polymerizable substances;
  • a new special provision for substances that require stabilization during transport, enabling the use of temperature controls when chemical stabilization becomes ineffective;
  • change in the classification and hazard communication for uranium hexafluoride; and
  • the harmonization of lithium battery transport provisions, including the new Class 9 label and Lithium Battery Handling Mark. Fortunately, these new marks have a transition period in the ICAO Technical Instructions until 2019.

Right now PHMSA is unable to confirm when they can resubmit the Final Rule. It will, it’s hoped, be soon, so U.S. companies can establish a unified set of procedures for national and international shipments.

If you have questions about these proposed changes and how they can affect your operations, please contact ICC Compliance Center at 1.888.442.9628 (USA) or 1.888.977.44834 (Canada).

Changes for IMDG Code 38th Edition

Next year signals the start of a new biennium for transportation of dangerous goods. Ocean shippers should take a look at what’s in store in the new International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG) which has been updated to reflect the most recent revisions of the UN Recommendation for the Transport of Dangerous Goods.

Compared to other regulations, the IMDG Code has a rather complex method of implementing changes. The IMDG Code 38th Edition was published in November of this year, so it will be referred to as the 2016 edition. However, the changes will not go into effect for 2016. Instead, shippers and carriers may start to use the new edition as of January 1, 2017. But a transition period of one year is given, so the changes are not mandatory until January 1, 2018. A new edition of the Code will be published near the end of 2018, but there will be another transition period of a year during which the 38th edition can still be used.

IMDG Transition Timeline
IMDG Transition Timeline

Think of it this way – during odd-numbered years you can use the current edition of the code, or the previous one. During even-numbered years, you must use the latest code published.

So, what changes can we expect for ocean shipment? It turns out that this biennium will not be one of massive changes, but will reflect adjustments and tweaks, as well as the introduction of a few new shipping descriptions. Here’s a list of the most significant changes for the 38th Edition.

  1. The classification sections for gases, flammable liquids, toxic substances and corrosives will now include definitions of materials prohibited from transport. These will be materials that can polymerize or decompose violently under the normal conditions of ocean transport.
  2. A new section, addresses when the shipper believes a named substance has hazards beyond those assigned by the regulations.
  3. In section, an alternate measurement of viscosity (using kinematic viscosity) can now be used in adjusting the packing group of viscous flammable liquids.
  4. A new type of flammable solid, called polymerizing substance, has been added to the classification criteria for Division 4.1.
  5. New shipping names have been added to the Dangerous Goods List in Volume 2. These include names for the new polymerizable substances (UN3531 to UN3534); new names for engines of various types, which have been split from vehicles (UN3528 to UN3550); and a new entry for polyester resin kits which have a solid, rather than liquid, base (UN3527).
  6. The new entries on the Dangerous Goods List have required the creation of new packing instructions for them.
  7. For UN1950, AEROSOLS, there is a new packing instruction, LP200, which will allow spray cans to be shipped in “large packagings” (combination packagings exceeding 450 Litres capacity per outer packaging.)
  8. New ISO standards have been incorporated into the packaging instructions for Class 2 gases.
  9. The “OVERPACK” marking has now been assigned a minimum letter height of 12 mm.
  10. Lithium batteries have changed in several ways to reflect new UN standards. First, the Code has introduced the new lithium battery handling mark, and the new lithium battery class 9 label. Both of these have a transition period of two years, and become mandatory in 2019. These are addressed in the revised Special Provision SP188 and the new SP384.
  11. Lithium batteries that are prototypes or low production samples have a new packing instruction, P910.

While shippers of dangerous goods by ocean have slightly longer to adapt to the new regulations than do air shippers, it’s important to remember that ocean shipments are usually longer as well. Don’t get caught out when your shipment suddenly becomes non-compliant mid-ocean.

If you have questions about the coming requirements for shipping dangerous goods by ocean, contact us here at ICC Compliance Center at 1-888-442-9628 (USA) or 1-888-977-44834 (Canada).

FedEx Grants Extension on Lithium Battery Mark for Air Transport

New Lithium Battery Marks

The 58th Edition of the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations has introduced new package markings for air transport of lithium batteries. For fully-regulated (Section I) batteries the UN has introduced the dedicated lithium battery Class 9 label, showing a battery graphic in the lower half. For low-powered batteries that are exempted under Section II, IATA has introduced a new version of the Lithium Battery Handling label (the one marked “CAUTION”).

The new Lithium Battery Handling mark (no longer classified by IATA as a “label”) was designed to eliminate the text portion, making the mark no longer dependent on a specific language. Instead of using text to indicate type of battery, this mark will use the UN number, making it easy to identify the batteries no matter what language the handlers speak.

New Lithium Battery Mark and Pictogram

ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) and IATA (International Air Transport Association) intend this new handling mark and the new lithium battery Class 9 label to be phased in over the next two years, to become mandatory on January 1, 2019. This will allow people to use up old stocks, and train their staff to recognize the new symbols while still using the old ones.

FedEx Implementation

However, FedEx introduced a variation (FX-05 in the IATA DGR) that requires shippers to mark the UN number on Section II batteries as of January 1, 2017, two years before ICAO and IATA make it mandatory. This has caused concern among shippers who were not planning on changing to the text-free version so soon.

Therefore, FedEx has decided to extend the deadline for implementing the UN number requirement until July 1, 2017. At that point, the shipper must either change to the new handling mark, or start marking the UN number beside the old handling label (“CAUTION”). Of course, shippers have the option to comply immediately if they prefer.

FedEx notes that this would only be an issue for Section II batteries. Batteries shipped under section IB would require both the handling label (or mark), as well as the Class 9 label, shipping name and UN number as regular dangerous goods.

If you have questions about the coming requirements for shipping lithium batteries by air, contact us here at ICC Compliance Center at 1-888-442-9628 (USA) or 1-888-977-44834 (Canada).

PHMSA Update
U.S. Publishes Proposed Rule HM-215N on International Harmonization

It’s autumn — we’re surrounded by orange leaves and orange pumpkins, and children are thinking about Halloween. Regulators, on the other hand, are thinking about something else orange. A new edition of the Orange Book (the UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods) is out.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), under the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), has made a commitment that U.S. transportation will stay well-harmonized with international regulations. So, now that the 19th Edition of the Orange Book is upon us, we must prepare for changes to the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (49 CFR).

DOT’s rules on international harmonization can be identified by their HM-215 docket numbers. On September 7, 2016, PHMSA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking, HM-215N. This rulemaking is intended to harmonize the HMR with the latest regulations on hazardous materials, including:

  • 2017-2018 Edition of the International Civil Aviation Organization Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air (ICAO TI),
  • Amendment 38-16 to the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG),
  • Canada’s “Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations” (TDG) up to an amendment incorporated on May 20, 2015,
  • 6th Revised Edition of the UN Manual of Test and Criteria, and
  • 6th Revised Edition of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

What changes can we expect?

As always, PHMSA does not simply cut and paste from the latest Orange Book. Instead, it reviews how international changes will interact with current U.S. regulations, and attempts to balance harmonization with international requirements against specific U.S. safety concerns. Some of the major changes proposed will include:

Provisions for polymerizing substances – PHMSA will add to the Hazardous Materials Table (HMR), section 172.101, four entries for a new type of hazard called polymerizing substances in Division 4.1. They will also establish classification criteria defining what are polymerizing substances, specific packaging authorizations and safety requirements for these unstable materials. These requirements will include stabilization methods and operational controls.

Polymeric beads – PHMSA proposes to add a procedure for declassifying polymeric beads if they don’t give off dangerous amounts of flammable gas, based on the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria.

Modification of the marine pollutant list – The list of marine pollutants in Appendix B to the HMT is a remnant of an earlier system under which aquatic hazards were determined by environmental authorities such as MARPOL. The Orange Book has for some time used a system of classification criteria instead of the list. In other words, a marine pollutant in the Orange Book and the IMDG Code is any chemical that tests positive as an environmental hazard. PHMSA will maintain the old list as a starting point for classification, although it will allow the use of the IMDG criteria for chemicals not listed, and this amendment will update the list to reflect current knowledge of marine hazards.

Hazard communication for lithium batteries – Lithium batteries have remained a thorn in the side of hazmat shippers as well as regulators, as the international community still scrambles to establish a fool-proof method of transporting these items. Under the 19th Edition of the Orange Book and the ICAO TI for 2017-2018, a new Class 9 label specific for batteries has been introduced, as well as a new simplified Lithium Battery Handling mark for low-powered batteries. PHMSA plans to incorporate these to match. Also, the Lithium Battery Handling mark will made mandatory.

Engine, internal combustion/Machinery, internal combustion – Under this proposal, the entries existing for “Engine, internal combustion” would be assigned their own UN numbers and hazard class based on the type of fuel – for example, a gasoline engine would be put in Class 3, UN3528, while a propane-powered engine would be put in Division 2.1, UN3529. The entries for UN3166 will be eliminated.

Harmonization with Canadian regulations – PHMSA proposes to eliminate several costly and annoying areas of non-harmonization with Canadian TDG regulations that have been addressed by the U.S.-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC). PHMSA proposes to recognize cylinders approved under Transport Canada. Also, Canadian equivalency certificates (the Canadian term for permits for equivalent level of safety) may be used for shipments coming into the U.S., until the first destination. These changes will be made along with Transport Canada, who will amend TDG to give similar reciprocity for cylinders and permits regarding shipments coming into Canada.

PHMSA has already moved forward on some issues that the UN is only now addressing. For example, the proposal notes that while the Orange Book has created an exemption for ping-pong balls under the entry for UN 2000, Celluloid, PHMSA has already declared in a letter of interpretation that the U.S. does not consider such articles to “pose an unreasonable risk to health, safety or property during transportation.” This comes as a significant relief to those who enjoy a rousing game of table tennis.

You can view the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking at PHMSA’s rulemaking archive. Comments on the proposed changes may be received by November 7, 2016, by mail, fax, hand-delivery or the Federal Rulemaking Portal at

If you have any questions about these proposed changes and how they can affect your operations, please contact us here at ICC Compliance Center at 1-888-442-9628 (USA) or 1-888-977-4834 (Canada).

Danger Placard
FBI Promoting “Suspicious Sales” Video

Availability of Dangerous Chemicals

Ever since the Oklahoma City bombing, industry has been aware of how criminals may try to obtain hazardous chemicals to create their own improvised weapons. Nowadays, U.S. and Canadian transportation regulations address how to protect chemicals in transport and prevent theft or tampering. Most industrial manufacturing and storage facilities have already implemented security systems and verification procedures for large customers.

But there’s a gaping hole in the system through which criminals can still get their hands on the ingredients they need. Many consumer products openly available in retail stores can be used as easily as industrial supplies to create bombs and poisons, or to be used in the dangerous production of illicit drugs. These purchases are often hard to track, because of the relative anonymity of consumer purchases.

The Chemical Countermeasures Unit (CCU) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is promoting a video on how to recognize suspicious sales of chemicals. The video, titled Suspicious Sales, dramatizes an explosion in an apartment building and the subsequent investigation, done in Law and Order style. Two detectives track down the purchases used to create the bomb based on standard commercial receipts found at the scene of the explosion (our criminal, in this case, having blown himself up by accident in his own apartment).

The chemicals were purchased at a number of stores – a beauty supply store, a hardware store selling pool chemicals, and a gardening depot. In all of them, the staff noticed strange things about the customer, but were unsure what to do about the situation.

The video’s goal is to give retail employees the tools to identify suspicious customers. The creators realize that these purchases are not specifically illegal, but alert employees can help authorities prevent incidents or provide assistance in identifying criminals after an incident.

Employees should be alert to signs of a suspicious sale. These include:

  • The customer is unable to answer simple questions about the product’s intended use (or gives vague answers)
  • The customer shows unusual preoccupation with the product’s chemical composition (in the video, a sales associate describes the perpetrator’s hunt for pool chemicals containing one specific ingredient)
  • The customer is new or unknown
  • The customer is reluctant or refuses to show valid identification
  • The customer makes large cash purchases, or uses someone else’s credit card
  • There is an unusual ordering pattern, such as buying strange quantities (more hair chemicals than a salon would need, for example), out-of-season purchases (such as pool chemicals when most pools are closed) or using a P.O. Box shipping address rather than a home address

So, if you’re a retail employee confronted with a suspicious purchase, what should you do?

  • After a suspicious encounter, make notes. Write down as much information as you have been able to gather, such as the person’s name, physical description, license plate number, and the details of the transaction
  • Notify your store manager, loss prevention officer or security manager
  • If the purchase raises serious concerns, report it to local or federal authorities so it can be investigated further

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have also published a series of flash cards for identifying suspicious customers and providing resources to retail staff. These three cards cover “Suspicious Behavior Awareness,” “Hazardous Chemical Awareness”, and “Peroxide Product Awareness.” They’re available as a free download for printing at The Department of Homeland Security’s TRIPwire website.

It’s an unavoidable fact of modern life that we must, in the words of the Harry Potter character Mad-Eye Moody, practice “constant vigilance” against those who plan to use chemicals to hurt others. Salespersons, cashiers, sales assistants, and other employees of retail outlets can help just as people in industrial settings to ensure that hazardous chemicals are kept out of the hands of criminals. Employers must also do their part by establishing internal procedures for reporting suspicious activities, and encouraging staff to “trust their gut” about suspicious customers, as the video advises

To obtain a free DVD of this video, you can e-mail the FBI at, with complete contact information (name, title, store name or organization, street address, and phone number.) Or you can view it on YouTube:

If you have questions about hazardous chemical security regulations and how they can affect your operations, please contact us here at ICC The Compliance Center at 1-888-442-9628 (USA) or 1-888-977-44834 (Canada).

The Poisoner’s Handbook – How Forensic Science Gave Birth to Modern Safety Regulations

Modern Forensic Science

Dr. Charles Norris, New York City's first chief medical examiner
[Dr. Charles Norris, New York City’s first chief medical examiner]. [Between 1920 and 1932?] Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, (Accessed September 02, 2016.)
If you love TV shows like “The Making of a Murderer” or “Forensics Files”, you’ll probably be intrigued by a book titled The Poisoner’s Handbook. But rather than serving as a guide to criminal mayhem, this book traces the growth of modern forensic science in the U.S., concentrating on the contributions of Dr. Charles Norris.

Norris was a visionary of his time who reformed the New York City Medical Examiner’s office from a political plum into a modern instrument for protecting the public. This meant protecting them not just from the occasional thug or greedy heir lurking with a bottle of rat poison, but against some of the largest industries of the time, who, in a combination of greed and ignorance, often poisoned their own employees and the public at large.

Author Deborah Blum deftly outlines her heroes and villains. Charles Norris came from a family of bankers (his grandfather had negotiated the first loan to the federal government to finance the Civil War), and often would resort to using his own money to keep his office running. His expertise in toxicology served him well in finding new ways to detect chemicals and prove their role in the deaths of the unfortunates who ended up in his morgue.

Playing Robin to Norris’s Bruce Wayne was Alexander Gettler, a forensic chemist from an immigrant family. Despite their vastly different backgrounds, the two shared a dedication to science and to justice, and were determined to ensure that the first would be always used in the service of the second.

Science, Justice, and Poison

The villains were more wide-ranging. Some were the typical murderers associated with today’s forensic science. Many were able to walk away from their crimes due to the crude science of the time. Mary Frances Creighton was acquitted in the arsenic poisoning of her brother and mother-in-law, only to be convicted and executed years later for killing another woman. But each defeat sent Norris and Gettler back to the laboratory to discover ever more effective techniques for identifying chemical poisons.

But the actions of individual criminals didn’t endanger New Yorkers as much as some of the ostensibly law-abiding corporate citizens. The medical examiners were called in to investigate an oil company whose employees had nicknamed one facility the “looney gas building”. As Blum describes it,

“[t]he men who worked there … had become a little odd—moody, short-tempered, unable to sleep. They’d started getting lost on the familiar plant grounds, sometimes had trouble remembering their friends. And then in September 1924 the workers started collapsing, going into convulsions, babbling deliriously.”

Norris’s investigation pinned the blame on a chemical manufactured in that facility—tetraethyl lead—and identified its neurotoxic properties. The chemical was temporarily banned in New York City, until lobbying efforts restored it to a perceived “safe” status. Tetraethyl lead remained a common component of gasoline until concerns about the spike in environmental lead from car exhaust led to its phasing out in the 1970s .

US Radium Girls Argonne National Laboratory
US Radium Girls Argonne National Laboratory

Another chapter covers the plight of the “Radium Girls“, who painted clocks and watches with luminous paint, unaware that the appealing glow came from deadly radium. Taught to use their lips to put a point on their brushes, the workers, mostly teenagers and young women, soon suffered from the horrific effects of radiation poisoning. Norris and Gettler proved that the very bones of the victims had become radioactive.

Consumer Safety Regulations

The book gives a terrifying look at what a world without workplace or consumer safety regulations is like. By 1926, drunken drivers were already a menace (automobile accidents being the biggest killers in New York City that year), but elevators in high buildings were becoming death traps, taking 87 lives—most simply because no one thought to put up barriers and warning signs in front of empty elevator shafts. Deadly carbon monoxide came not only from the exhausts of the newfangled automobiles, but was piped directly into many homes as “illuminating gas,” and killed many from causes as simple as a faulty fitting. Another deadly gas, hydrogen cyanide, was used as a fumigant against rats and insects, with scant attention to its effects on humans nearby. Toxic chemicals such as arsenic could be easily purchased and used by members of the public who might or might not have any idea how to handle them safely.

But regulation could bring more danger to the public. Blum examines how Prohibition, designed to save people from the dangers of alcoholism, was killing more than unregulated alcohol ever had. Contaminated drink—caused by bad distilling in homemade stills, deliberate adulteration by bootleggers to increase their profits, or even by government who thought that “denaturing” illegal alcohol by pouring in toxic chemicals would keep people from drinking it—lived up to its nickname of “rotgut” in sometimes horrific fashion. The last part of the book shows, ironically, how counter-productive badly-conceived regulations can be.

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York is a primer on criminology and safety, a glimpse into the fascinating world of 1920s New York City, and a morality play about the struggles of two men determined to protect the public from toxic monsters loosed upon them by apathy, greed and politics. In an era where regulations are seen by some as not worth their economic impact, the lesson of this book is that we can’t afford to avoid such a fight.

Questions about chemical safety in the workplace? Contact ICC Compliance Center’s regulatory department here at 1-888-442-9628 (USA) or 1-888-977-44834 (Canada).

Safety Star Wars
May the (Safety) Force Be with You

Even a universe long ago and far, far away isn’t immune to problems with worker safety. And it’s not just those Storm Troopers eternally hitting their heads on the ceiling, or rebels getting trapped in garbage disposals.

An Accident on Set

During the filming of 2015’s blockbuster “Star Wars Episode Seven: The Force Awakens,” star Harrison Ford was struck by a piece of the set, resulting in a broken leg and several weeks’ delay in filming. The lost production time wasn’t the film company’s only problem, though. Foodles Production (UK) Ltd, a Disney subsidiary, was charged with four criminal violations to the United Kingdom’s workplace safety laws. This week, the company pleaded guilty to two counts, with the remaining two counts being withdrawn by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). (The charges were laid in Britain because the accident occurred at the famous Pinewood set near London.)

Ironically, what endangered the 74-year-old star was a piece of modern technology. While working on set, he was struck by an automatic hydraulic-powered door that was reportedly triggered by someone unaware that Harrison was nearby. The force produced by this door was likened by the prosecution to “a small car.” When Harrison starred in the first Star Wars film, such a door would have been more likely to be powered by a stage-hand pulling a rope.

The Film Industry’s History of Risk

That doesn’t mean that film sets have a reputation for safety– far from it. Silent movies were made long before workplace safety was a significant issue for employers, and it was routine for actors, and particularly stuntmen and women, to be put at serious risk. When pouring millions of gallons of water on set during a filming of “Noah’s Ark,” director Michael Curtiz supposedly told a protesting staffer that the hundreds of extras “would have to take their chances” on drowning. According to a article on the filming of “Ben Hur” (the 1959 movie had no fatalities, but a stuntman died during the filming of the chariot race in the 1926 silent version) “[t]he early days of the film industry was particularly hard on stunt people. Baxter lists 55 deaths, mostly stunt people, as occurring in California film productions during the years 1925-1930.”

While the passage of time brought improved safety regulations for film sets, it also brought more emphasis on spectacular stunts and explosions. In 1982, actor Vic Morrow and two child actors were killed in an on-set helicopter crash. Director John Landis and others in the production were charged with manslaughter, but acquitted. Since then, government and industry have both worked to improve the safety of workers on sets. Many innovative programs have been set up – for example, in Californian centers near major movie studios, firefighters are given special training in recognizing hazards they may encounter on movie sets. Still, stage and screen work continues to be risky to its practitioners.

Lessons Learned

Like any good epic, the tale of Han Solo and the Door of Doom teaches us an important lesson. All workplaces must make safety a priority. It’s easy to see safety as an issue in heavy industry, such as construction or manufacturing. But all workplaces can pose hazards, even those dedicated to providing us with entertainment. Fortunately, in most areas, the regulations protect those who work on screen, in offices or in laboratories just as much as workers on the shop floor. The HSE said in their announcement of the guilty pleas:

“Every employer in every industry has a legal duty to manage risks in the workplace. Risks are part and parcel of everyday life, and this is acknowledged by health and safety law – but they still need to be identified and managed in a proportionate way.”

The veteran Ford took the accident in stride. He returned to his signature role in the movie that would become the top-grossing film in North American history, and posted a tweet holding a sign that read “Can do the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. Can’t use a door.”

If you have regulatory questions about workplace health and safety, contact us here at ICC Compliance Center at 1-888-442-9628 (USA) or 1-888-977-44834 (Canada).

Pokémon Go pokéball
Pokémon Go: Gotta Catch ‘Em All – Safely

Until recently, if you saw someone wandering down the street, eyes fixed to their smart phone, you might assume they were absorbed by texting “Sup?” to all their friends. But there’s a new craze this summer, a game called Pokémon Go. While the game has been praised for getting couch potatoes out into the streets searching for digital creatures (the “pocket monsters” or Pokémon) to collect, questions about player safety (as well as bad behaviour) have been a hot topic in the news.

Let’s look at how you can enjoy hunting adorable imaginary monsters without getting hurt or becoming a nuisance to others.

What is Pokémon Go?

Pokémon Go is available in Canada and the U.S. as a free download for both Android and iOS phones. Once you download it, you discover the game has two main parts – hunting and fighting

Your first task is to locate and catch Pokémon. There are 142 types (Currently available in North America) that may be generated around the landscape. The game provides you with a map of your location, which will indicate, in a frustratingly vague manner, the Pokémon available for capture in your general area. When one comes into range, your smartphone will vibrate and an adorable cartoon monster will appear on your phone screen. To catch it, flick a trap called a “pokéball” at the creature (the thumb-flick, though easy, is not as accurate as the preferred forefinger-flick). Since Pokémon have different strengths, the higher-ranked ones will be harder to catch. Once caught, they can be strengthened by feeding them candy and stardust. Sounds unhealthy, but they’re like vegetables and whole grains to Pokémon.

Once you’ve established a stable of Pokémon and reached the rank of “trainer”, you can battle against players at “Pokémon gyms,” as you strive for pre-eminence over local trainers. There’s no money involved in winning, but pride and glory await the trainer who can catch and raise the most powerful minions.

The game, created by Niantic, Inc., is free to play, but extra pokéballs and other supplies are available as in-app purchases. Caches of free supplies may be found at “Pokéstops,” located at local attractions such as parks, churches, museums, and public artworks. This encourages players to discover details about their local community that even long-time residents may have missed.

So, Why the Concern?

Wild Pokémon are generated relatively randomly, sometimes in places where it may be dangerous for players to go. These include private property, dangerous environments such as cliffs and waterways, and areas with high crime levels. Although most current reports of trainers being hurt or attacked are urban legends, enough incidents have occurred to make safety a concern. One player was stabbed while hunting down an elusive specimen and another searching along a riverbank came across a real-life corpse. A Toronto player is now in trouble with transit authorities for filming himself searching for targets on the subway tracks.

Additional complaints have arisen from the location of the Pokéstops and gyms. While clusters of eager players may be welcomed at many spots (particularly in commercial areas), players have been seen behaving inappropriately at areas where respectful decorum is required, such as the Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery. While Niantic has a system for requesting the addition or deletion of a stop or gym, the massive response to the game has made it unlikely that such changes can be made quickly. It’s up to the players themselves to behave responsibly.

Steps for Safe Play

Pokémon Go Safety

If you decide to join the hordes of prospective Pokémon trainers, keep in mind that although the Pokémon live in a virtual world, you don’t. That means that the laws of society and nature still apply to your activities. Even the opening screen of the game reminds you to stay alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. Here are some suggestions to increase the fun and minimize the danger of your poképursuit.

  • Keep your head up. Fortunately, your phone will alert you if you’ve approached a target, so you don’t have to keep your eyes glued to it. Enjoy your rambles, and don’t look like a noob by concentrating excessively on your screen. If you’re trying to track a distant Pokémon, stop walking when you check your map.
  • Plan your course and pick a safe route. You don’t want to end up in the wrong part of town or knee-deep in a bog. Take the time of day into consideration. While some rare Pokémon prefer to come out at night, so do muggers. It may be safe to wander around a park during the daytime, but it might not be a good idea in the middle of the night.
  • Traffic is your enemy. Don’t jaywalk or try to cross busy highways. Don’t stop in the middle of an intersection to throw pokéballs. Don’t walk down active railway lines. Especially don’t walk down railway lines while listening to headphones.
  • Speaking of which, don’t hunt and drive. While the programmers claim that they’ve deliberately kept spawning points away from major highways, Pokémon can still make tantalizing appearances as you drive city streets. Don’t slam on the brakes just because you spotted a Vaporeon (as many people did in Central Park recently, creating a massive traffic jam in downtown Manhattan). If you plan on using a car to get around, park before going on the hunt. Remember, many jurisdictions ban using hand-held electronics while behind the wheel, and that covers gameplay as well as texting. Even if it’s legal in your area, it’s still not a good idea. If you want to search a wide zone, get a partner to drive while you scan.
  • Prepare for the conditions of your search. It’s a hot summer – if you’ll be walking around during the day, wear sunscreen and take plenty of water with you. Your Pokémon skills won’t save you if you get heatstroke. Wear good walking or hiking shoes. If you’re going into natural areas such as parks, beware of ticks and other insects who are not as easily subdued as Caterpie.
  • Respect private property and areas such as churches and memorials. This is common sense as much as common decency. The game’s sensors allow you a relatively wide circle where you can nab your prey, so in most cases you can get that Pikachu in someone’s backyard just by standing on the sidewalk. But if you can’t, be nice and don’t pester the inhabitants. You might end up facing charges for trespassing, and the judge may not find completing your Pokédex adequate justification.
  • As all fads, Pokémon Go has attracted scammers and worse to prey on the unwary. One report tells of enterprising thieves who set up a lure (which attracts large numbers of Pokémon to one area), and robbed players who showed up at gunpoint. Scam websites have tried to convince players to pay them a monthly fee, despite Niantic’s declaration that the game will stay free to play. Avoid going into isolated areas alone, and always check out internet rumours at reliable sources.
  • Above all, keep in mind that Pokémon Go is a game. A fun one, yes. But it’s not worth risking your safety or breaking the law for.

If you have questions about Pokémon Go, Barbara Foster will field them after she catches the Eevee lurking behind her desk. For regulatory questions, contact us here at ICC The Compliance Center at 1-888-442-9628 (USA) or 1-888-977-4834 (Canada).