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What Every Logistics and Safety Manager Should Know About Transporting Hazardous Materials

Hazardous materials are crucial but risky. Safe transport, regulations, and best practices are vital for logistics and safety managers to prevent accidents.

June 13, 2024
What Every Logistics and Safety Manager Should Know About Transporting Hazardous MaterialsWhat Every Logistics and Safety Manager Should Know About Transporting Hazardous Materials
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Some of the most important and useful materials are also extremely hazardous to the health of people, animals, and the environment. Ironically, many of the most dangerous materials are vital for survival. Initially, it may seem counterintuitive for hazardous materials to also be life-saving substances. Upon further thought though, it becomes clear that this is often the case. 

For example, chemotherapy treatments for cancer are toxic chemicals. Radioactive isotopes are used to treat cancer, take X-rays, and make smoke detectors. There are also many others that, while not necessarily integral for life, are extremely useful in a variety of applications. This includes things like acids for metal treatment and batteries. 

While these materials are hazardous, they're also necessary for hundreds of different applications that society can't do without. That's why safely transporting hazardous materials is so critical. They must go where they're needed; however, safety is key. Using hazardous material transportation best practices can prevent potential accidents that could lead to severe environmental damage, human injuries, or fatalities.

Logistics and safety managers are on the front line of these safety efforts. They oversee the planning, execution, and monitoring of the entire process of hazardous materials transportation. Due to the potential risks, there are many regulations put in place to prevent disaster.

Logistics and safety managers are critical in ensuring compliance with regulations and industry standards designed to protect public health and the environment. It's their job to implement and enforce safety protocols, conduct regular inspections and maintenance, and train staff on proper handling procedures.

Their role directly minimizes the risk of accidents, prevents environmental contamination, and ensures the safe, efficient transport of hazardous materials. When a job is that important, it has to be done right. Knowing the best practices that ensure the most ideal outcomes becomes imperative. 

Let's dive into some of the most important things every logistics and safety manager should know about hazardous material transportation

Understanding Hazardous Material Transportation

There are many hazardous materials primarily transported by rail. The most common types are flammable liquids or toxic gasses. These are extremely dangerous and/or volatile chemicals that require the utmost care to transport safely. That's why rail is the perfect option. According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), over 99.99% of hazmat rail shipments reach their destination safely.

Some examples of the most common materials include:

  • Agriculture Fertilizers: Rail is the main method of transporting fertilizer compounds like anhydrous ammonia, potassium, and urea as well as the chemical components that create them including phosphate rock, crude potash, and sulfur. These chemicals are vital for keeping America's farms (and its economy) running smoothly.
  • Petroleum Products and Natural Gas: These products are generally found in Gulf states, like Texas, where they are abundant. Since materials like crude oil are location-dependent, most production plants are in those areas and the products must be transported elsewhere.
  • Ethanol: Ethanol grew in popularity in 2006 after the ban on the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) and subsequent governmental policies requiring the use of biofuels and other renewables. Ethanol is mostly transported by rail as its high alcohol content makes it extremely flammable and an explosion risk.

The safety and reliability of rail are why these more dangerous and volatile chemicals are transported this way. However, if the right safety protocols aren't followed, America's rail system becomes a very dangerous powder keg.

Regulatory Requirements and Safety Standards

Now that you understand the importance of hazardous material transportation for dozens of industries and the economy as a whole as well as what's at stake if it isn't done correctly and safely, let's discuss some of the regulatory requirements and safety standards in place to ensure that none of it is at risk.

Some regulatory requirements and safety standards by the US AAR are:

  • Proper Documentation of Materials: All shipments must be properly labeled to identify the substance and location of materials in the cargo. This ensures that the right railcars are used to transport it and identifies the substance in case of emergency so that emergency personnel can take the right precautions and mitigate any risks effectively.
  • Proper Loading, Transportation, and Unloading: Each material type has requirements and standards set to ensure that it is loaded, transported, and unloaded in a way that is safe and takes all necessary precautions. Thisincludes loading onto the correct packaging and/or container, putting it in the correct location in a safe way, transporting it on a suitable railcar, and unloading it safely.
  • Proper Devices: Some hazardous materials require certain devices or processes to be used. This can include insulation and thermal protection, jacketing, and pressure valves.

Safe Transportation

Due to the cataclysmic result of making a mistake, safe transportation of hazardous materials by complying with all applicable regulations and processes is of the utmost importance. However, safe transportation starts long before loading the materials.

First, you must ensure that all your equipment is functioning properly. This requires stringent adherence to regular maintenance and inspection of all equipment including tank cars and valves. It's always best to err on the side of caution and maintain, repair, and replace parts more often than needed rather than risk waiting too long and having a catastrophic failure. Check specific regulations to ensure you replace or update parts according to regulatory requirements. 

Next, you must have effective communication and coordination, working together seamlessly. The Hazardous Communication Standard requires specific communication measures like hazard classification, proper labeling, and safety data sheets. The United States Hazardous Materials Instructions for Rail has specific procedures for emergencies that everyone must know. Everyone should undergo the proper training on safety procedures, emergency protocols, and regulatory requirements. Completion verification and testing to confirm proficiency are also vital.

Regular open communication with the regulatory bodies responsible for overseeing hazardous material transportation should be enacted through the appropriate channels. Having regular reviews of all your safety procedures and protocols will ensure compliance and success when transporting hazardous materials.

The Role of Pressure Tank Cars and Valves in Safety

Pressure tank cars are an arrangement of components working together, including the tank, fittings, valves, safety devices, and specialized coatings, designed to ensure the secure and reliable transport of hazardous materials. If one part doesn't work properly, the entire system could fail with disastrous outcomes. 

It is essential that you not only have all the requisite components but that the right materials are chosen for each part. Proper material selection is important when creating pressure tank cars because the material parts promote longevity and allow the safest means of transporting hazardous materials. 

Preventing Tank Car Implosions

Tank car implosions are exceedingly rare. Railroads have put painstaking measures in place to ensure the safety of hazardous material transportation, and the data illustrates just how effective they've been. Since 2000, these safety initiatives have reduced hazmat rail accidents by 75%, bringing it to a historic low. Today, more than 99.99% of rail hazmat shipments arrive without incident.

However, no matter how rare tank car implosions are, it's important to remember that the infrequency is only due to constant efforts to maintain safety. That's why you need to know what they are and how to prevent them.

A tank car implosion is the inward collapse of a container or tank. This occurs when the external pressure exceeds the internal pressure, causing a pressure differential. This pressure difference creates an inward force that overwhelms the container's structural integrity, causing it to cave inwards. The consequences are the release of hazardous substances.

Vacuum relief valves (VRVs) are designed to be fail-safe and open under minimal pressure differences, which ensures they effectively prevent implosions even when the pressure drop is gradual or unexpected. Having and maintaining vacuum relief valves to ensure proper functionality is crucial for safety.

Innovative Solutions and Future Trends

Constant innovations are being made to try and increase the safety of hazardous material transportation. As technology evolves, tragic accidents will keep decreasing. 

Here are some innovations that can further enhance the safety of hazardous material transportation:

  • Sensor Technology: Real-time monitoring of environmental conditions within tank cars enables early detection of abnormalities, allowing for proactive measures to mitigate risks and prevent accidents.
  • Innovative Materials: Innovations in materials science have led to the development of stronger and more durable tank car components, reducing the likelihood of leaks and spills during the transportation of hazardous materials.
  • Automation and Remote Monitoring: The prominence of automation and remote monitoring systems allows continuous monitoring of tank car conditions and instant response to emergencies, enhancing overall safety standards and minimizing the impact of incidents.

Investing in these measures can also give companies a competitive edge with superior safety results and save on costs incurred by spills and clean-up efforts.

Conclusion

The safety measures currently in place are doing their job to increase safety. That's why adhering to best practices and maintaining tank car valves for the safe transportation of hazardous materials is so vital to prevent environmental damage, human injuries, or fatalities.

Logistics and safety managers have a critical role in upholding safety standards and ensuring the safe transportation of hazardous materials. We are here to help you with this. McKenzie Valve offers a range of general-purpose tank car valve parts for safe and efficient transportation.