Flip placard systems group  chemically and legally compatible materials for ease of displaying. Images: Labelmaster

Flip placard systems group  chemically and legally compatible materials for ease of displaying. Images: Labelmaster

Anyone hauling hazardous materials must display the proper informational placards on the outside of a trailer or truck body. In the event of an accident, the colorful placards’ code numbers, letters and symbols tell first responders what’s inside and how to deal with it. It seems like they’ve been around forever, but no.

They’ve been required for only 40 years, according to Abe Samuels, the fellow who devised the flip-card system for carriers who transport many different types of flammables, gasses, chemicals and explosives. And 40 years is how long he worked for Labelmaster, the Chicago maker of placards, packaging and other related products.  

“Around forever” might good naturedly apply to him, as he is 95 and only recently retired from Labelmaster. The company held a retirement party for him in late May, and sent out a news release. In it, Samuels recalls how the placarding system for dangerous goods (DGs) came to be.

“It wasn’t until 1976 when Congress mandated that placards be displayed on trucks to identify the many different kinds of hazardous materials being transported,” Samuels said. “For decades, Labelmaster had been helping companies meet DG regulations with packaging and labeling, but now placarding was required before shippers were put into commerce.”

Abe Samuels worked at Labelmaster for 40 years before retiring in May.

Abe Samuels worked at Labelmaster for 40 years before retiring in May.  

This presented a challenge when a carrier transported a mixed load of various DG commodities that needed to be identified. Today there are nine categories of hazards with 24 divisions among them.

Samuels, relying upon his prior background in tool and die work and designing plumbing products, developed the Spacemaster, a flip placard system that enables carriers to quickly select and display the appropriate placard for each DG load. All of the required legends are available in one system, created by flipping numbers, colors and the names of hazard classes.

These systems would go on to become the standard in the industry used by most of the top carriers.

“By design, these adaptable signs are customized for each kind of load, so the carrier can tell the shipper, ‘I have all of the signs required and can place your shipment into commerce immediately’,” Samuels said.  The system is offered in different variations and number of placards, ranging from a basic two for flammable and non-flammable gas all the way up to 17 that can highlight materials that are labeled as explosive, poison, radioactive, corrosive, combustible and more.

“Such identifiers provide information for first responders at an incident who need to determine the appropriate firefighting techniques, the special equipment that may be required and necessary evacuation distances,” Samuels explained. “The signage must be displayed on the front and back, and each side, of the trailer.”

So, when stuck behind a truck on the interstate, one likely will see and admire Abe Samuels’ design that fosters safety, now affixed to thousands and thousands of trailers. It may even be a Samuels’ original, as Abe laments that the highly durable, corrosion-resistant aluminum frames and aluminum, alloy placards seemingly last forever, minimizing repeat sales.

Author

Tom Berg
Tom Berg

Tom Berg

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

View Bio
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