Fuel Smarts

Study Recommends Haz-Mat Improvements

April 10, 2000

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The U.S. Department of Transportation’s hazardous materials program works reasonably
well, but needs improvement, according to a recently released program evaluation.

The evaluation was done by a team representing the Research and Special Programs Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Federal Railroad Administration and DOT’s Office of Inspector General. Some of the major findings and recommendations:
* DOT hasn’t achieved a department-wide approach to implementing its hazardous materials programs. The program lacks sound strategic planning and coordinated DOT-wide direction. The team recommended the establishment of an organization DOT to administer and deliver a coordinated hazardous materials program with authority to set overall policy, program objectives and priorities and focus budget and resource strategies.
* Shippers of hazardous materials generally receive less attention than carriers, yet they offer the greatest opportunity to improve safety. Currently shippers account for about 5% of all hazardous materials inspections, yet analysis and public comment repeatedly identify the shipper, more often that the carrier, as the party most culpable for non-compliance with haz-mat regulations. The recommended that DOT place more focus on high-risk or problem shippers and identify other critical points in the transportation stream for program focus.
* Human error continues to be the single greatest contributing factor in hazardous materials incidents and DOT has not been effective in changing this trend. Training requirements need to be improved to change industry safety practices and ensure that those responsible for handling haz-mat are properly trained. “Strike force” inspections at multi-modal locations could be used to cross-train inspectors and enforce regulations.
* DOT needs to have more reliable, accurate and timely data to measure program effectiveness and make informed program decisions. The team said the quality of hazardous materials data could be improved by asking the Bureau of Transportation Statistics to with the various agencies to determine data needs, collection strategies and analytical techniques.
The full report and an executive summary are available online at http://hazmat.dot.gov/hmpe.htm.

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