Using DOT Incident Data to Improve Your Logistics Safety Practices

Posted by Paul Little on 12 September 2013

In a recent blog (10 Steps to Improve Your Logistics Safety Practices), I presented a plan to improve the performance of your logistics safety practices.  The third step of this process was an action to analyze your operations.  During this analysis, a logistics safety employee should assess the quality of existing logistics safety procedures.  To help assess the quality of these procedures, company metrics (e.g., incident reports and customer complaints) should be used.

But without adequate company metrics, how can an assessment be conducted to ensure employees have the appropriate information to complete their logistics safety activities in a safe, secure and compliant manner?  A review of DOT 5800 incident reports is a convenient method to assess how the US hazardous materials (hazmat) industry is performing similar logistics safety activities.  The DOT’s incident database is a free source of information and provides access to U.S. hazmat incidents reported to the DOT.  Reviewing this incident data and the proposed corrective actions can help improve your logistics safety procedures.

For the 12 month period ending August 31, 2013, over 14,000 hazmat incidents were reported to the DOT.  Shippers primarily concerned with assessing their shipment preparation and receiving practices will want to look closely at incident causes related to improper actions during filling and securing of packagings and loading, blocking & bracing, segregating or unloading hazardous materials packages or what I’ll refer to in this blog as shipment preparation and receiving.

By using the Failure Cause Description field, one can filter the 14,000 incidents for causes that likely occurred during shipment preparation or receiving.  The Description of Events field can also be used to confirm when these causes occurred.  The result is over 8000 incidents during the 12 months with causes that likely occurred during shipment preparation or receiving.  These incidents may have been reported during the transportation phase, but the causes likely relate back to issues during shipment preparation or receiving.

To further simplify the data, I created the following 5 cause categories based on the 8,000+ incidents that occurred during shipment preparation and receiving:

incident chart v41The above 5 cause categories account for 94% of the total shipment preparation and receiving incidents.  From the above chart, the following broad conclusions can be drawn:

1. The inability to secure valves and fittings is a leading cause of incidents.
2. Improper or inadequate procedures contribute to hazmat incidents.
3. Blocking and bracing practices were not performed or were not effective at stopping cargo from shifting and falling during transportation.
4. Dropped cargo during loading/unloading represents a significant cause of incidents.
5. Forklift damage is also an important cause of hazmat releases.

Armed with this data, a logistics safety employee can review their existing logistics safety practices and determine how effective their procedures are at ensuring that incidents based on the above cause categories won’t happen at their company.  Considering these 5 cause categories, the following changes to logistics safety procedures may prove helpful.

1. Incident Cause:  Loose Valves & Fittings
Action:  Review each checklist to ensure every valve, fitting and component that must be secured is listed with an action.

2. Incident Cause:  Improper or Inadequate Procedures
Action:  Incorporate the manufacturer’s closure instructions into procedures.

3. Incident Cause:  Inadequate Blocking & Bracing
Action:  Create a load securement diagram for each load pattern used.

4. Incident Cause:  Dropped Cargo
Action:  Develop procedures to secure non bulk packages to pallets with stretch-wrap or banding.

5. Incident Cause:  Damaged by Forklift
Action:  Review your training program against OSHA’s requirements (29 CFR 1910.178(l)).

The final result will be logistics safety procedures that have been improved through a review using DOT 5800 incident reports.  As recommended in 10 Steps to Improve Your Logistics Safety Practices, following the revisions to existing procedures, be sure to train employees on the changes and establish metrics to measure performance improvement.