Understanding how to transport hazardous materials

Jon Lawson

The UK climate change target for all industries is to reduce emissions by 80% (based on 1990 levels) by 2050. At the same time this needs to be achieved whilst providing safe and effective operations and delivering a high quality product. Alone these aspects present significant challenges to any business - now think about this in the context of dangerous goods.

Freight transportation is a primary component of all supply-chain and logistics systems, using use air, rail road and sea to move goods over long distances and between terminals and cities. The choice(s) of transport is influenced by multiple factors including cost, time, business needs, the destination country and the type of goods being transported. 

An additional factor that needs to be considered is whether the goods are dangerous or not.‘Dangerous goods, or ‘hazardous materials’ in the USA, which include pure chemicals, mixtures of chemicals, manufactured products or articles, present a potential hazard to the environment as well as animal and human health if they are not properly handled either in use, in transport or both.

Exposure to every day products, such as petrol, can potentially be hazardous if people come into contact with them too frequently or for too long. Hence, the packaging of such products will carry small symbols that indicate the nature of the hazard and will be accompanied by a safety data sheet that captures these aspects as well as what are known as hazard and precautionary statements. 

The classification and labelling of products is governed by the Globally Harmonised System for Classification and Labelling and was developed by the United Nations as a single, standardised set of global criteria for primary (such as chemical drums) and secondary (workplace) containers. These standards ensure that there are minimum requirements in place to protect anyone coming into contact with the product, for example employees handling it during storage and emergency personnel called to an incident involving it. This is often achieved by ensuring the chemical can be correctly identified and that associated hazards are clearly communicated using signal words, hazard statements and pictograms. 

A further aspect to labelling is the safety data sheet (SDS). This is generated by the supplier and provided to the customer. The SDS is informative and details information on a number of aspects relating to the product such as procedures for the handling and storing of hazardous substances. The information in the safety data sheet is essential to anyone that may come into contact with the product. 

The classification criteria for the transportation of dangerous goods is controlled and governed by codes focused on transportation by air, road, rail and sea. Specific codes operate in accordance with the ‘United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods’ as this provides a framework for transport by air, road, rail and sea. Collectively these regulatory codes mandate how dangerous goods are handled, packaged, labelled and transported. In Europe, the movement of dangerous goods by road is governed by international regulations and countries are signed up to the ADR treaty (Accord européen relatif au transport international des marchandises Dangereuses par Route and from January 1st 2021 it will be renamed the Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road). Similar rules are in place; IATA concerns transportation by air, RID by rail and IMDG by sea. The overall intention of these transportation codes is to ensure that goods, vehicles and drivers comply with the rules relating to dangerous goods so that they can be moved freely across countries and borders. 


Requirements for classifying, packaging, labelling and certifying dangerous goods

Reading section 14 of the SDS is a very quick way to find out if a product is a dangerous chemical. This section summarises transport information for a particular product and will say whether or not the product (or chemical or article) is dangerous. 

It’s worth bearing in mind that not all goods are the same and in keeping with this, not all chemicals are dangerous and subject to transport regulations. If a product is not classed a dangerous good, section 14 will state this or that the regulations are not applicable. If a product is a dangerous good it will include the following 7 items:

  • 1.    UN number: This is a 4-digit identification number. For example, UN1987 is used to identify alcohols (ethanol) and is a class 3 dangerous good (there are 9). It is important to mention that the consignor - the person or business shipping the goods - is responsible for classifying, marking and packaging the dangerous goods.
  • 2.    Proper shipping name: This is the technical name (e.g. alcohols) of the chemical composition of the product. 
  • 3.    The dangerous goods hazard class: The chemical composition needs to be classed according to the most prominent hazard they pose during transportation. Class 3 dangerous goods include liquid substances derived from petroleum as well as liquids that are manufactured through natural or industrial processes and have a flash point of no more than 60 degrees Celsius. The flashpoint is the temperature at which there are sufficient vapours to ignite in the presence of air. Hence, the higher the flashpoint the lower the risk and vice versa. 
  • 4.    Packaging group: Packaging is coded from 1 to 3 with the lowest number representing the highest danger and the highest number representing the lowest danger. Flammable liquids are grouped according to their closed flash point temperature and boiling point with the highest closed flash temperature for class 3 dangerous goods being 60 degrees Celsius. Beyond this upper temperature limit they are not considered dangerous for transport. 
  • 5.    Environmental hazards: European countries have extensive laws and legislation concerning the transportation of dangerous goods by air, rail, road and sea. The IMDG code will outline whether or not a product is a marine pollutant. This is based on predefined list of commonly known pollutants or it is judged based on product specific aquatic toxicity data (both acute and chronic), chemical degradation data and bioconcentration data (ie accumulation in living tissues).
  • 6.    Transportation in bulk: Guidance on bulk transportation. 
  • 7.    Special precautions for users.

It is important to highlight that the packaging symbols relate to the product (or chemical or article). Hence they need to be considered as precautions and safeguards in the event of an accident or when they come into contact with animals, humans, the environment or other chemicals. 

It is worth reiterating that Annex A of ADR concerns the requirements for classifying, packaging, labelling and certifying dangerous goods whereas Annex B should be consulted as it contains further information relating to the vehicle, tank specifications and operational requirements. For instance, the drivers of vehicles transporting dangerous goods must have an ADR training certificate. 

In the UK the regulations on the transport of dangerous goods are captured under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The GOV.UK website states that in order to comply with this regulation, businesses that regularly handle, process or transport dangerous goods must appoint a Dangerous Goods Safety Adviser to measure, monitor and enforce the rules governing transport of dangerous goods. 

How will freight change in the future?

In 2018 the National Infrastructure Commission estimated that domestic transport (includes both passenger and freight) accounted for more than 25% of the UK’s greenhouse emissions and that alone HGVs represented 4% of total emissions. Road transport is therefore an area that needs to adapt to meet the UK’s 2050 targets and where transport will change in the future. 

Technological changes in road transport include the use of cleaner HGVs that conform to Euro 6 standards for emissions. These HGVs remove nearly all emissions of particulate matter and reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 95%. HGVs are anticipated to adopt ultra-low emission technologies as well as the use of electrified vehicles either in the HGV or with current distribution networks.  

Rail is also expected to change with a number of options currently available. This may be the use of alternative fuels such as hydrogen; the use of electric locomotives; the expansion of electrified networks and the use of battery power for ‘last mile’ operations. 

Sea transportation will also change through the electrification of ports to replace the current use of diesel to generate electricity whilst in port. 

These developments present a number of challenges to business. Indeed, battery technology is significantly heavier than its diesel counterpart and this will increase the gross weight of the vehicle, which may need to be changed, and reduces the payload capacity. From the perspective of transporting dangerous goods, any move to a new technology presents new potential risks. The generation of cleaner energy using hydrogen or batteries means that in the event of an accident, dangerous goods may come into contact with these chemicals/materials. This presents an area where regulations may need to be updated or even generated to ensure operations comply with new rules fit to manage the introduction and adoption of new technologies. 

The author is Chris Wright, R&D lead, Global Heat Transfer.

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