Hazmat enhanced packaging proposal
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May 31, 2013
Hazmat enhanced packaging proposal

Amendments addressing the opening and closing of packages containing hazardous materials (hazmats) and the removal of these packages from transportation or their return to transportation are included in a recent proposal from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). 

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The proposed amendments respond to provisions in the Hazardous Materials Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2012 (HMTSIA), which require that the PHMSA develop certain “enhanced” inspection and enforcement procedures.  Among the prominent items in the proposal is an attempt to resolve concerns about inspectors holding up packages with such perishable hazmats as radiopharmaceuticals and other medical products that may require timely delivery due to life-threatening situations.

The proposed amendments build on a March 2011 PHMSA rule that introduced most of the enhanced inspection and enforcement procedures the PHMSA now uses in the context of hazmat packages or practices that pose an imminent hazard.  Specific issues addressed in that action include opening packages to identify undeclared or noncompliant shipments when the person in possession of the package refuses a request to open it and temporary detention and inspection of potentially noncompliant packages. 

According to the PHMSA, the current proposal is intended to augment those existing inspection and enforcement procedures without changing them. 

Further enhancements

The proposal contains the following:

  • A clarification that a Department of Transportation (DOT) agent will stop or open a package containing a perishable hazmat only after the agent has utilized “appropriate alternatives,” a phrase that the PHMSA does not define either in the proposed amendments or their preamble. 
  • A provision to provide for the immediate and reasonable notification to the offeror and the person in possession of the package of enforcement action taken by an inspector or investigator whenever he or she exercises one of the inspection and investigation authorities under 49 CFR Part 109, Subpart B.  Those authorities include the opening of packages; removing a package and related packages in a shipment from transportation; directing a package to be transported to a facility for examination and analysis; and authorizing properly qualified personnel to assist in activities conducted under Subpart B.  The notice would include the reason for the action being taken, the results of any preliminary investigation including apparent violations of the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR), and any further action that may be warranted.
  • A provision that would require a federal agent to use the appropriate safety, handling, and other equipment authorized by his or her operating administration’s equipment requirements for hazmat inspectors and investigators.  (The federal hazmat regulations are enforced by four DOT agencies—the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the PHMSA.) 

Training             

The HMTSIA also directed DOT hazmat agencies to develop regulations to ensure appropriate training for inspectors.  Currently there is no uniform training standard for hazmat inspectors and investigators.  The PHMSA notes that the sensible approach would be to establish uniform performance training standards, best practices, and protocols before additional training regulations for hazmat personnel are developed.  “We advocate addressing any performance standards as part of the larger hazardous materials performance standard development activity currently underway,” states the PHMSA. 

Also, the PHMSA notes that subsequent to the March 2011 rule, the DOT developed an internal operations manual for training and use by its hazmat inspectors and investigators across all modes of transportation.  The operations manual’s guidance is intended to target and manage the use of the enhanced inspection and enforcement authority in a uniform and consistent manner within the DOT.

PHMSA’s proposed enhanced enforcement procedures for hazmats were published in the May 22, 2013, FR.

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