This year has seen environmental disasters that have put millions of people at risk. From the incredible one-two-three punch of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, to the Bangladesh floods, to the recent earthquake in Mexico, we see people facing lack of food, clean water and shelter. All of us need to protect ourselves and our loved ones during these periods when outside help hasn’t arrived. But while we’re watching out for what Mother Nature can throw at us, we must also remember hazardous chemicals and articles, even those that can help us survive, can put us in danger as well.
How to Prepare for Natural Emergencies
What does a typical household need to prepare for natural emergencies (or even man-made ones such as chemical spills that can isolate and endanger communities)? A number of websites list “must haves” and “should haves” for these situations, including:
What are some of the hazards that our own preparations can create?
One of the biggest dangers during emergencies is generators. These internal-combustion power sources can be lifesaving, especially for those with special health needs, and can make life during power outages more bearable. But they function by burning fuel, which can Continue Reading…
It seemed such a simple task at the time. A company decided to expand their consumer product line to include perfumes. They expected to send orders to customers, as they did their other products, by airmail. Yet, when setting up the shipment, an unexpected roadblock appeared. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) told them that the perfume was a hazardous material.
How can a common consumer product like perfume be hazardous for transportation? Most perfumes have an alcohol base, designed to evaporate quickly leaving the scent behind. Unfortunately, this means that such perfumes are flammable liquids for transportation and are subject to Department of Transportation (DOT) as well as USPS restrictions for both ground and air transport.
So, the decision to go into perfumes created some major headaches for the company. But they recently got some good news. If the perfume is based on ethanol, one of the most common alcohols, the company will get a break – USPS has reduced the requirements for this one solvent. Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, can be found in many consumer products, ranging from perfumes to hairspray to bath oil. By reducing the requirements for shipment of these products, shippers will enjoy reduced costs and complexity.
Some of you may remember the old credit card commercial that featured the epic journey of a self-propelled suitcase seeking its lost owner. Well, it turns out this wasn’t so entirely fantastic. There’s a new generation of “smart luggage” hitting the market that can tell airlines electronically who it belongs to and where it’s going, trail after you down airport hallways without a handle, and charge your cellphone if you can’t make it to one of those electrical outlets airports seem to hide on purpose. Some will even double as transport devices themselves, allowing travelers to zip around terminals on their own electric suitcase-scooters.
But these modern technologies come with a problem that’s often overlooked. The energy sources for all these seemingly-magical functions are usually lithium batteries. Lithium batteries are one of the main causes of fires related to dangerous goods on aircraft. So travelling with the newest piece of high tech luggage can bring headaches both for the traveller and the airline he or she flies on.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has for many years established rules for equipment containing lithium batteries carried by passengers or crew, but dangerous luggage is a new area. To help, they’ve published a guidance document that covers the dangers associated with such luggage, and instructions on how it can be carried safely.
Are you a birdwatcher who’s spotted every owl and thrush, and wants to move on to a new field of study? Are you a model train hobbyist who wants to make sure your HO scale equipment accurately reflects modern regulations? Or are you a safety professional who deals with bulk dangerous goods in tank cars? If your answer to any of those questions is “yes,” the American Association of Railways (AAR) has published something that will make identifying a TC-111A100W5 or DOT-117R100W as easy as telling a Mourning Warbler from a Laughing Gull.
AAR’s Field Guide to Tank Cars, by Andy Elkins, is a resource for rail workers and particularly for emergency responders. Tank cars come in many varieties, and handling them safely or responding to spills means that you must know what type of car is involved. The Field Guide has been updated for its third edition to reflect current regulations and standards, which have changed over the past decade due to incidents such as the Lac-Mégantic explosion in Quebec.
Types of Tank Cars
The Field Guide starts with a discussion of the basic types of tank cars – non-pressurized tank cars (also known as “general service” or “low-pressure” cars), pressure tank cars for products such as liquid propane and cryogenic liquid tank cars, used for gases that are liquefied at low Continue Reading…
On April 28, 2017, IDC Technologies held their second Dangerous Goods Conference in Mississauga, Ontario. Two of our regulatory staff from ICC were among the presenters during a day of informative sessions that covered transportation, environmental, and safety aspects of the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations (TDG).
ICC Regulatory Consultant Clifton Brown presented his study of the effect the current lithium battery regulations are having on air safety, with a look over the history of accidents involving these batteries since they were first introduced in the early 1990s. Clifton did a lot of sifting through reports from government and industry sources to conclude that the regulations on lithium batteries have a way to go to make them a negligible hazard. Perhaps by the time they are, we’ll have invented safer methods of energy storage.
I presented an overview of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) changes to health and safety regulations, and whether the GHS Purple Book has achieved worthwhile harmonization in the same way as the UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (the Orange Book). Unfortunately, we’ll have to deal with a lot of disharmonization remaining in the short term (such as the differences on dealing with environmental hazards between North America and Europe). However, the Orange Book has, slowly but surely, led regulators Continue Reading…
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.”
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.
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 Continue Reading…
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, Continue Reading…
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 Continue Reading…
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.