“Hazmat” is short for hazardous materials, such as explosives, toxins, or acids. Hazmat regulations cover who may handle and transport these materials, how such loads must be identified, and what to do in the event of an “incident” such as a spill or leak. Generally, shippers must register and pass certain safety inspections in order to legally carry more than certain quantities of dangerous substances. Failure to follow the rules can result in a company being completely barred from operation.
Hazmat regulations are not simple. For example, the maximum quantity that can be shipped without registering under the rules is different for different types of hazardous materials (radioactive verses explosive, and so on). The registration and safety inspection process varies slightly depending on whether the applicant lives in the United States or only ships within the country. Some people, such as certain state and federal employees, are exempt from the rules. And besides the Department of Transportation (DOT), which has primary responsibility for hazardous material shipping, there are other state and federal agencies that have their own regulations.
Everyone involved in the process of moving hazardous materials has their own responsibilities under the law. Each must be properly registered and inspected. The shipper—the person or company that decides the material should travel—is responsible for recognizing the load as hazardous and notifying the carrier. The carrier is then responsible for notifying the proper authorities in the event of an incident. Each also bears responsibility for proper labelling, stable packing, completing paperwork, and other matters.
Compliance with hazardous material safety regulations is part of the requirements the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) maintains for carriers to operate. Thus, if a carrier fails its safety audit or compliance review because of improper handling of hazardous materials, it could lose its ability to carry any sort of cargo until the problem is rectified.
Generally, FMCSA’s registration and certification processes are educational, not punitive in nature. Carriers that fail compliance reviews have a period of time in which they can correct the problems while continuing to operate. Carriers can also ask for additional time under some circumstances and have the option to appeal the decision. It is only when carriers ignore the regulations entirely that FMCSA might take the company off the road.
Detailed summaries of hazmat safety regulations are available online, as are the regulations themselves. It is important to read through the regulations thoroughly in order to find all those that apply to the carrier’s situation.