No panacea for hazmat safety concerns

March 1, 2002 By    

Everyone agrees on the need to improve hazardous material transportation security in the wake of September 11. But ensuring that changes actually make an impact is much more difficult than grasping at the first legislative, regulatory, or policy solution, or buying the latest piece of technology that promises safety miracles.

As participants in a recent meeting of the Committee on Transportation of Hazardous Materials of the Transportation Research Board observed, true solutions run much deeper.

“It is a process where everyone would like to have some answers today but we don’t. Everyone has their own scenarios. Every agency, every organizations, every researcher has pet scenarios. Every vendor has a pet tool,” warned Cheryl Burke, a risk management safety consultant with Dupont Safety.

“That is not the way we will get anything done. I think there will be change but I don’t see anything major. Until we understand what’s going on, we’ll be running around like chickens with our heads cut off. I’d resist major changes until we understand more.”

Even Doug Reeves, a risk assessment engineer with the Research & Special Programs Administration acknowledged “there is a potential we’ll overdo it. What if we require security plans?

“We don’t think we have the authority to do it now. I have not seen any overreaction at this point. That is not to say we won’t.”

Hazmat carriers need to learn more from each other, committee members said. This means that associations and competitors need to share security ideas that work. The American industry also can learn from carriers and governments in other countries – such as Israel and Turkey – experienced in dealing with terrorist threats.

A few companies have implemented advanced security policies, but some drivers still leave their keys in unattended vehicles and leave unattended trucks running to keep them warm in winter.

An official from the Department of Transportation noted that not everybody follows current rules requiring background and immigration checks on employees – something to consider before adding new requirements.

“We are so busy looking for new technology and new ways to do things that we are not even looking at what we are doing now,” he said.

A DOT representative said that the appropriations bill passed by Congress gives the agency six months to prepare a report on hazmat transportation. No money was provided for the study, however, and DOT hasn’t even figured out where to assign it.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.); ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, told LP Gas that Congress will have to expand the Transportation Security Act to cover terrorism. The legislation, up for reauthorization this year, has traditionally dealt only with protecting the public and the environment from spills.

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