DOT Reorganization Redirects Hazardous Materials Oversight

Nov. 1, 2000
A reorganization within the Department of Transportation (DOT) to regulate hazardous materials isn't likely to favor the chemical distribution industry,

A reorganization within the Department of Transportation (DOT) to regulate hazardous materials isn't likely to favor the chemical distribution industry, according to information presented at OPSEM2000 in Dallas, Texas, September 13-15. The conference and exhibition is sponsored by the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD).

The reorganization expands hazmat oversight within DOT, said Tom Dunaway of National Transportation Consultants Inc and a former DOT official. For example, before the final rule was filed August 15, 2000, the DOT agency, Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA), had authority over carriers. Now, RSPA will have the authority to review shippers' records.

About 300 million hazmat shipments are conducted annually. In 1998 there were 15,322 incidents resulting in 13 deaths and 199 injuries, Dunaway said. Human error was determined to be the number one cause of the accidents. Those statistics and others have aroused both government and public concern, resulting in the new rule.

"It's a done deal," Dunaway said." This is not going to be good news for most of you."

The Secretary of Transportation has delegated hazmat safety authority to five operating administrations and the Associate Deputy Secretary and Director of the Office of Intermodalism. The five operating administrations include the Coast Guard, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, RSPA, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Additionally, the rule provides the director of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics with the authority to work with the administrations to determine data needs.

As a result of the new action, new hazmat regulations training may be initiated and more investigators may be added, Dunaway speculated. Investigators will come from DOT and from state highway departments, the latter monitored and trained by federal officials.

Shippers and carriers can expect more attention from DOT as a result of the new rule. The rule has broadened the authority so that DOT resources can be used to inspect shippers by all modes of transportation.

"Minor revisions also are being made to 49 CFR Part 1 to update statutory authority citations where necessary," according to information about the rule on the DOT web site.

"This rule broadens each operating administration's delegations to allow them to use their respective resources for DOT-wide purposes."

The new rule was prompted after DOT conducted a review of its hazardous materials transportation programs in 1999. The review concluded that DOT could enhance hazmat transportation safety by establishing a central focal point to administer and deliver a DOT-wide hazmat program. This would provide for more effective use of the department's resources to address intermodal and cross-modal issues, according to the web site.

In addition, DOT would develop department-wide strategies and actions to focus more on high-risk, or problem shippers, through targeted outreach activities, technical assistance, and inspections.

As part of its emphasis on public awareness, DOT will coordinate a national campaign to increase public awareness of the dangers of hazmat in transportation.

The DOT-hazmat program will be further enhanced by improving the department's data on hazmat census, incident compliance, and budget. The data analysis will be improved, and ways will be found to increase availability and usefulness of the data.

Increased Enforcement On a separate, but DOT-related subject, Dunaway noted that with the establishment of the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA), carriers can expect increased enforcement and, if necessary, accompanying fines. DOT investigators are mandated to conduct four reviews each month, Dunaway said. A-Category carriers can expect a review. "You will be seen, too, if you are on the `B' list," he added. "Most states have already worked through the `D' carriers. If a complaint has been made about you, you'll get a visit. It doesn't matter how good your record is, if you have an accident that gets a lot of news, you are going to get a visit."

He estimated that a carrier can remain on the DOT review list for up to three years.

About the Author

Tom Dunaway