Steven Charles Hunt President, ShipMate, Inc. from here to there: topics in transportation Answers to difficult questions may just be a click away Occasionally, I will receive a phone call from a rather upset and anxious client who has experienced some difficulty booking cargo with an airline or steamship line. Invariably, there is a difference in interpretation of the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) between the shipper and carrier. After a brief discussion, I am usually able to correct the situation for the shipper and the cargo is moved without further delay. However, in the past two weeks, I’ve had four phone calls from as many clients who had cargo delayed en route as a result of a misinterpretation of the requirements by the carrier or a regulatory authority. In three of the four cases, the carrier or regulatory agency erred and delayed the cargo unnecessarily. In the last of the four cases, the agency even initiated a civil penalty action against the shipper and issued a Letter of Investigation (LOI), demanding production of additional documents, including Bills of Lading, Safety Data Sheets and training records. In this most recent case, the regulatory agency charged the “offending party” with a violation of the HMR because the hazard warning label was not placed on the package in a diamond or square-on-point configuration. The LOI stated that the “offending party...was found to have the class 9 label improperly placed on the box. It was placed at a 90 degree angle instead of a 45 degree angle as required....” However, it is interesting to note that the very same agency issued a Letter of Interpretation several years prior which very clearly states that “...while it is the intent of these regulations that a label be oriented square-on-point when possible, the requirements in 49 CFR...and the...ICAO Technical Instructions do not prohibit the placement of 32 Spray June 2013 hazard warning labels in an orientation where the square-onpoint is located with its flat sides parallel to the package.” It appears that even the regulatory agents are having difficulty interpreting the HMR! Interpretations Library In cases where there is a difference of interpretation, a frustrated shipment or even a civil penalty action, I have found it most useful to consult the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety “The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.” – Abraham Lincoln Administration (PHMSA) website (www.phmsa.dot.gov/ hazmat/regs/interps) to research their extensive library of interpretations dating as far back as 1995. There are several ways to conduct a search within this library: by date, by regulation or by keyword. The date search is not very useful (to be honest), but the regulation and keyword search are quite helpful. Of course, the regulation search function assumes that the user is familiar with the regulatory requirements and can recite both chapter and verse. The keyword search function will generate a list of links and provide a synopsis of each interpretation letter containing the keywords or phrase. A simple Boolean search will narrow the list of possible hits from 2,000 or more to a few dozen or less. For example, I conducted a search in the last case using the terms “square on point” (without quotes) and the engine generated a list of 1,817 hits. I narrowed the search criteria by putting the term “square-on-point” in quotes (and included the hyphens) and produced 71 results. I then crafted a Boolean search using the following terms “ squareon point” and “label” and generated a more manageable list of 28 results.
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