By Diane M. Calabrese / Published August 2022
If it moves, it probably falls under the purview of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
From air transport (Federal Aviation Administration, FAA) to pipeline conveyance (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, PHMSA), DOT’s mission embodies safety and efficiency. That is a huge scope and an even bigger responsibility.
The contextual characteristics of federal departments change with each new executive branch of government. The client-facing website information from DOT illustrates that. For example, the DOT now includes a values statement that lists excellence, trust, fairness, empathy, and imagination along with icons such as a radiant heart for empathy. The mission statement includes “…sustainable, and equitable movement of people and goods.”
All the nuts and bolts, such as who needs a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or a DOT vehicle registration number, are still accessible; but there are many extras at the DOT.gov website. A visit to the site serves as a reminder of how valuable membership in a professional organization can be.
CETA, PWNA, IWCA, UAMCC, and other groups that bring together members of our industry have staff and committees dedicated to keeping pace with existing and new regulations. They also provide training in required certifications (e.g., hazmat) administered by DOT entities.
Taking classes through a professional organization can often reduce the cost. Classes from training and certification companies are also good options, and members of our industry very often tap both the opportunities offered by their professional groups and those presented by specialized training companies.
The more DOT rules a member of our industry must follow, the more likely it is the business will have someone on the team dedicated to keeping pace with regulations. Etowah Chemical Sales and Service in Gadsden, AL, has such a person, explains Ben Benefield, national sales manager at the company. And he gives a firm “yes” to our question of whether he would recommend the arrangement to others.
Yet Benefield’s company also takes advantage of outside expertise on a routine basis. “Every couple of years we go outside to JJ Keller” to get a consultant to instruct/refresh team members in DOT requirements. And again, he recommends other members of our in-dustry use a consultant on a regular basis.
Challenges to meeting requirements from DOT are minimized when there is certainty about what the requirements are. A consultant can help with verifying interpretation. (DOT can be asked for verification on correct interpretation of rules, but even after a response confusion may persist.)
Certain DOT rules are more complicated than others. A big challenge currently, says Benefield, is making certain each vehicle is placarded when hauling over 1,001 pounds of corrosive chemical.
Many companies in our industry, especially contractors, work exclusively within one state. Even those businesses that work across states should use state transportation department information to establish the list of requirements they must meet. Many states have add-ons to USDOT requirements.
“The state of Alabama” adds to DOT requirements, explains Benefield. “[There is] much more paperwork to do if you let your CDL with hazmat expire or if you let your medical card expire.”
The medical card requirement reflects the layers of DOT. USDOT requires individuals with a CDL to have a medical card (attesting to their health status and fitness to drive) if they operate a vehicle with a gross weight of 10,000 pounds or more. But many states impose their own requirements. Maryland, for instance, requires anyone with a CDL to have a medical card (with rare exceptions).
USDOT and state transportation department entities respond to noncompliance with warnings, fines, and more severe penalties when warranted. We wondered whether noncompliance can also affect the insurance status of companies. We asked Tom Svrcek, president of CSC Insurance Options and Joseph D. Walters Insurance in Belle Vernon, PA, about it.
“Not following the rules does not mean that your coverage will not respond,” says Svrcek. “You could be overweight, or you could transport chemicals outside the DOT regulations. Chances are your coverage, and your policy, will respond” to an incident even if there is a confounding factor like being overweight.
“But once certain violations show up on your motor vehicle record, the consequences can be severe,” says Svrcek. “Cancellation and possible non-renewal of your policy [are potential consequences]. Now you’re labeled [and] the chance of getting preferred rates won’t exist. In certain situations, coverage for illegal violations can be denied.”
Time and allocation of resources will dictate whether a company can assign a team member responsibility for keeping pace with DOT requirements. “It will be different for each company depending on their staff positions, but someone should be checking at least quarterly,” says Linda Chambers, the brand and sales manager at Georgia Chemical Equipment (GCE) in Norcross, GA.
Chambers recommends signing up for email updates from the DOT. As for a consultant, her company has not gone that route. “That is because I have the time to get to and go over information that is free and found at the DOT website.”
Manufacturers and distributors in our industry put a high priority on meeting all regulations. And that includes those from DOT.
Chambers has concern about how challenging it is for contractors to keep pace with DOT rules. She gives us some examples of the what and the why.
“Contractors do not understand the rules surrounding chemical tanks on their mobile rigs,” says Chambers. “Many are purchasing water tanks or buying units built by others that are telling them the tanks they are being sold are ‘certified’ chemical tanks that can have hazardous materials such as sodium hypochlorite pumped into them by vendors. This is totally false.”
It’s all a matter of whether a tank is stationary or mobile. (Remember that when it moves—even people (but another issue)—it comes under purview of DOT.) So once the tank is moving, it falls under DOT regulations.
“All poly tanks that I know of are chemical storage tanks only, even those rated to store hazmat chemicals, and are sold to be used sitting on the ground,” explains Chambers. “As soon as one of those tanks is put on a moving vehicle and is transporting hazmat chemicals, [the tank falls] under the DOT rules—and those tanks have not been UN certified to transport hazmat.”
Chambers emphasizes that only containers that bear the United Nations symbol, which indicates the packaging has been tested and certified according to UN requirements, can transport hazmat chemicals. “The UN symbol can either be included with a lowercase ‘u’ over a lowercase ‘n’ in a circle or as an uppercase ‘UN’ and must be embossed into the plastic.”
Vendors of chemicals take very seriously their obligation to ascertain the receptacles contractors want filled meet standards for the chemicals. To pour into an uncertified tank would be against hazmat rules and, industry best practices, and can result in a heavy fine.
“All containers holding hazmat must be properly labeled with the chemical name and UN number and carry the correct GHS [globally harmonized system] pictogram label for the chemical in the container,” says Chambers. But she has concern that “most contractors are not labeling their tanks indicating they are transporting bleach at all.”
That’s noncompliant because any container that holds more than one percent of hazardous material (including bleach) must have a placard on it. (UN 1791 designates hypochlorite solutions.) Also required are the chemical name and the GHS number 8 placard. Class 8 encompasses corrosive chemicals, which cause severe damage on contact with living tissue.
Chambers also reminds us that USDOT requires any vehicle carrying more than 1000 pounds of hazmat chemicals to have a DOT registration number and a driver with CDL and medical card. (Hazmat certification is renewable every three years.)
Many contractors are a bit causal about hazmat chemicals because they carry such small amounts. That can be an error. The amounts can add to a sum that interests the DOT.
“It is legal for contractors to carry hazmat chemicals in eight or fewer five-gallon containers for ‘in trade use’—40 gallons—without a BOL [bill of lading],” says Chambers. But if more, a BOL is imperative.
When DOT levies a fine against a contractor, it is often for the aggregate amount of hazmat chemicals being carried, explains Chambers. The cutoff is 1000 pounds (or about 100 gallons).
Not only should the relevant BOL be kept in a vehicle until all chemicals listed are consumed, but contractors must also remember to carry the SDS for every hazardous chemical, says Chambers. She recommends a binder with SDSs and an element-proof pouch within it for BOL.
Labeling containers according to contents, size, date of purchase, etc. may seem laborious, but such attention to detail allows a contractor (like a distributor and manufacturer) to maintain a complete accounting of hazardous chemicals. After all, safety begins with knowing and following correct procedures.
For more on the knowing, see the article published in these pages in June 2018 titled “Meeting DOT Requirements.” (https://www.cleanertimes.com/magazine/cleaner-times-articles-2/meeting-dot-requirements/). It’s another good refresher about what not to forget. And there’s a great deal to remember.