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Trucking Companies Use Technology for Safer Hazmat Transportation

It was quite the year in 1975. Not only was the Vietnamese War in its final throes, but Jaws became the first blockbuster and the first movie on VHS tape was released. What was probably less talked about at the time was the Hazardous Material Transportation Act.

The HMT Act was first approved to regulate and establish clear cut procedures on how to properly transport any materials that may pose a risk to public health or property. And much like so many regulations that came out of the 70’s, the HMT Act was complicated, to say the least. Yet, these rules, procedures, and packaging requirements would be responsible for saving countless lives.

We have come a long way since 1975, so modern hazmat trucking companies need to take a modern approach to hazmat safety. But first, you must start with the basics. Let’s take a deep dive into hazmat transportation safety for trucking companies.

A Primer on Hazmat Transportation Safety

To transport hazardous materials, truck drivers must be certified and carry the appropriate endorsement on his or her CDL. Most trucking companies must also provide comprehensive CDL training offered through the company. The certifications and training provided gives truck drivers the knowledge they need to safely transport hazardous materials.

Yet, many trucking companies are still processing hazmat loads and registering hazmat truck drivers through cumbersome manual processes. The normal process for most fleets is to have managers be responsible for ensuring hazmat loads are handled properly. Many trucking companies have formal processes or utilize briefings for both managers and truck drivers hauling the material.

As requirements evolved and more regulations added over the intervening years, the complexity of dealing with hazmat regs became even tougher for truck drivers and fleet managers to follow. Take placards as one example. To manage placarding for the vehicle, truck drivers must:

  • Be very familiar with the labeling and description of the cargo.
  • Know the packaging and exact quantities.
  • Correctly account for this information.

Hazmat Regulations Trip Up Truck Drivers

How should truck drivers handle hazmat requirements? If you have a material in bulk packaging specifically labeled as hazmat, then have other materials on board, they may require a different kind of labeling. And if you are hauling several different classifications of cargo, compliance requirements get even more complex.

Let’s be honest. Average truck drivers who only occasionally haul hazardous cargo are susceptible to mistakes because they are not used to the compliance requirements. Most CSA violations incurred by truck drivers happen because there was a problem with the paperwork, labeling, or placard placement.

Does this seem like a lot to consider? Don’t worry. Fortunately, technology is providing a better way to get the job done. Why? Because in many cases fleet managers must wake up in the middle of the night to take a call from a hazmat truck driver who needs to complete a briefing. It is a highly involved process that has not benefited from the innovations of automation. But all of that is about to change.

Technology to the Rescue

As with so many other aspects of our society, technology is changing the way jobs get done. When it comes to tracking load information, correctly using placards, handling emergency response, or even managing truck driver compliance – all of this can now be done through a simple web-based interface portal.

Most motor carriers are managing hazmat concerns through a manual, paper-intensive process. Today, third-party vendors provide virtual solutions. Manual processes may cost less, but they are highly time intensive. In many cases, managing large fleets running hazmat cargo is quite laborious. Additionally, a clumsy hazmat process creates frustrating delays for truck drivers.

Someone once said: “If you give a truck driver the right tools, they can do anything.” And it certainly is true. As the warriors of the road, truck drivers play an essential role in our everyday lives. New products and services are popping up everywhere to help truck drivers get the job done efficiently and safely. Automated hazmat documentation solutions are just one example of these new tools.

Rely on Automation and Digitization

The latest in this type of technology turns all the hazmat rules and regulations into programming logic. What once was a manual and laborious process can now be accomplished through machine learning and automation. Suddenly, all the complexity and danger inherent in hazmat cargo hauling could be more easily managed.

These technologies fall under the umbrella of advanced fleet technology solutions. They encompass everything from a mobile driver solution to a web-based platform for operations staff. Tools that can automate hazmat compliance for truck drivers and fleet managers.

Many of these new tools are built with useful add-ons. Some might include easy-to-use systems for more than just truck drivers. Similar systems could be used for dock workers, dispatchers, and others in the supply chain. Necessary parties should have access to compliance double checks, automated briefings, access to an emergency response guide, and a penalty and fine guide.

Other features you should consider include:

  • Real-time placard suggestions
  • CSA compliance violation reduction strategies
  • Integrated emergency response, penalty, and fine guides
  • Multiple trailer configurations and loading options
  • API access to external systems

Obviously, any time you adopt a new system you’ve got to set up proper training and get buy-in from your front-line people. Do surveys and setup workshops so that your people can speak their mind regarding an important change like this.

Focus on Time and Money

What do you strive for? If you manage a trucking company, you should be striving for an unrated CSA score, which essentially puts you at less than 5 violations in the last two-year period. The most ideal goal is zero, of course, but unrated is a worthy goal.

Utilizing automated hazmat guidance technologies allows trucking companies to improve their hazmat score. They also benefit from reduced labor costs, decreased time intervals, and improved analytics and reporting. Suddenly you don’t have to staff so many people to answer truck driver calls for support and truck drivers have peace of mind knowing they won’t have to deal with inadequate hazmat policies either.

Many of these systems come with built-in apps. Make sure whatever vendor you go with that you look for one that provides mobile app access. You want to be able to access hazmat information where it is easily and quickly accessible. So, where else would that be than on your smartphone?

Through an app or web-based portal, a user can log in and has all the information needed to log transportation material, load information, and answer questions they may have. The app should also have access to the emergency response guide so that if there is a problem, the user can open the guide and know exactly what do with the touch of a button. Knowledge of fines and fees keeps the truck driver in the know on possible consequences for not taking extra care.

Know Your PHMSA

Here is another acronym for you: The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). If you have not yet heard enough about the FMCSA, try the PHMSA on for size. This is the administration that regulates fleets responsible for transporting hazardous materials by rail car, aircraft, motor vehicle, and/or vessel.

Anyone who is considered a “hazmat employee” must receive training on regulations provided by the PHMSA. And they must do so every three years or if their job function changes. The type of training provided is impacted by the individual’s job function. Truck drivers who transport hazardous materials fall under the umbrella of hazmat employee, but they are not the only ones.

Hazmat employees could also refer to those involved with the loading or unloading of the cargo. It could also be anyone who manufactures a package or container used for transporting hazmat cargo. Basically, anyone who touches hazardous cargo anywhere along the chain could fall under hazmat employee status, which carries an additional regulatory and compliance burden.

What Are the Top Violations?

We want to close out this look at how you can enhance your hazmat compliance by knowing what not to do. Trucking companies who haul hazardous cargo want to know: What should we look out for?

According to data provided by the FMCSA, the top five most cited hazmat violations include:

  • Package is not secure in the vehicle.
  • No copy of DOT Hazmat Registration number on hand.
  • Shipping paper accessibility problem.
  • No or improper shipping papers.
  • Placard damaged, deteriorated, or obscured.

Now you know what to do and what not to do. Help your fellow trucking company operators keep everyone safe on the road by encouraging sound hazmat practices among your people.

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