Logistics Safety Practices Support a Successful Hazmat Inspection

Posted by Paul Little on 11 February 2014

The odds are that if your company ships hazardous materials (hazmat) that eventually you will have a visit from a hazmat inspector. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) closes approximately 400 - 500 civil penalty actions and collects on average about $1.5 - 2.5 million in fines each year. In April 2013, PHMSA revised the maximum and minimum civil penalties for a knowing violation of the hazardous material transportation regulations. The maximum civil penalty for a knowing violation is now $75,000 and the maximum civil penalty is $175,000 for a violation that results in death, serious illness, or severe injury to any person or substantial destruction of property. Rather than agonize over a possible inspection, here are 4 important logistics safety practices to implement now to begin to prepare for that inspection.

hazmat checklist image v21 31. Build a Plan: Without a plan, you run the risk that somewhere in your hazmat operations (e.g., classifying new chemicals, filling packagings or training employees) there is a compliance gap ready to be discovered. Implementing a logistics safety management system (LSMS) will help ensure all aspects of your operation are performing as you have defined them. The LSMS encompasses all logistics safety areas of your supply chain and spells out how each activity should be performed. See Blog Archive: Documenting a Logistics Safety Management System.

2. Nominate an Employee Host: To ensure you make a good first impression, it is wise to have an employee host the hazardous materials inspector during the inspection. The Logistics Safety function is ideally suited to:

  • Assess the credentials of the inspector
  • Establish the purpose for the inspection
  • Fulfill the inspector’s requests for documentation & records and 
  • Understand any findings the inspector may identify

It is also important to have 1 or 2 alternate hosts available to step into the host role should the main host be off-site when an inspector comes calling. See Blog Archive: 10 Ways the Logistics Safety Function Can Enhance Hazmat Practices.

3. Determine Roles, Responsibilities and Expectations: The employee host should establish the roles and responsibilities for key employees during the inspection. The employee host can work directly with the inspector but it must be a team effort to be successful. It is best to limit the number of employees that will speak directly with an inspector to limit the redundant or conflicting information that may be presented. And it’s best not to introduce topics or provide information unless specifically requested by the inspector.

Here are 5 key roles that should expect to participate in an inspection:

  • Site Manager: The senior manager on site should meet the inspector. This provides an opportunity to reinforce the site’s commitment to regulatory compliance.
  • Receptionist: There is no quicker way to derail an inspection that you’ve worked hard to prepare for than to give an inspector a cool reception. Whoever is most likely to first welcome visitors should be trained to recognize the various agencies with inspection authority (e.g., PHMSA, Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, etc.), listen closely to their request and promptly launch the site’s host an inspector program.
  • Trainer: The trainer should be prepared to explain all aspects of the hazmat training program, if requested. Failure to train and maintain training records is one of the most often cited compliance violations. PHMSA listed over 550 violations of training requirements (§172.704) in their 2012 Enforcement Notice. The hazardous materials regulations stipulate 5 types of training and 5 components to recordkeeping, including certification by the hazmat employer that their hazmat employees have been trained and tested.
  • Operations Manager: The operations manager should be familiar with site operations that are considered pre-transportation and transportation functions and be able to answer the inspector’s questions.
  • Security Manager:  If you require a transportation security plan, the security manager may need to explain aspects of the plan including the site's personnel security, unauthorized access and en route security procedures as well as the transportation risk assessment.

4. Conduct an Inspection Drill: To test your preparedness, an inspection drill should be performed. One of the alternate hosts can assume the role of the inspector and challenge the site to provide training records and other documentation (e.g., hazmat registration, shipping papers & packaging closure instructions). A review of PHMSA’s annual Enforcement Notices will provide an indication of the most common violations.

With a plan in place and employees that know their responsibilities, you are more likely to have a successful inspection. Listen closely to the inspector’s requests and comments and take action on any deficiencies that are identified. Alert the company’s legal counsel of the inspection and any pertinent findings. A hazmat inspection can be an opportunity to improve your logistics safety practices.