SMS may help HazMat shippers to lower safety risks & no FAA civil penalties

hazmat safety management systems
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HazMat SMS (Safety Management Systems)

Lower Safety Risks & No FAA Penalties

Recently, the Google search machine delivered these two articles into the in box simultaneously:

  1. From American Shipper

FAA sets hazmat penalties for three shippers

  1. From Aviation Pros

FAA Gets Ready to Roll out SMS

The juxtaposition of those two stories suggested that the FAA’s new safety program, which has been heralded as reducing safety risks, might be an effective tool to address this WAVE of problems in shipping of dangerous goods.

Plus, this list of 50 Haz Mat cases issued over the past 24 months is a clear indication that the current regimen of the Office of Hazardous Materials Safety is not achieving the high level of  compliance by the old Civil Penalty deterrence technique:

It is fair to suggest that the punitive approach is not reaching the shipper community. It may not be that the threat of assessment of sanctions works well with shippers; by nature of their business, they are geographically dispersed. Additionally, almost every participant in the manufacturing industry ships products to other companies; in fact, there are myriad association of shippers (i.e. the United Shippers’ Alliance (“USA”) Membership is comprised of over 150 companies from many industries throughout the United States).

The problem may really be awareness and knowledge. A small company may not know that the product/liquid/chemical falls within the categories defined by Hazardous Materials Regulations, 49 CFR Parts 171-179. It is also possible that these “shippers” might not recognize that the package will be flown as a method of transportation or what the regulations require as to specific identification, packaging, labeling, or notification for each dangerous good.

hazmat sms faa

Under such circumstances, it might behoove the FAA to offer SMS as a safety tool which will help educate the shippers.

One of the critical aspects of this new discipline is that a group is formed to identify and respond to risks. The designers of the SMS discipline insisted that this group should not be limited to just the functions directly involved with safety; in applying an SMS regimen to the shipper business, more than the people who handle the packages. That would likely include people who are more familiar with the composition of the shipment, those involved in sales & marketing, the purchasing agents, etc. By definition, this 3600 perspective will expand the safety culture of these companies.

Companies shipping Hazmat are not required to have an SMS but UPS, DHL, FedEx and other carriers could, if they elected to do so, require that all hazmat shippers participate in SMS. The FAA’s SMS regulatory structure contemplates that entities may participate on a voluntary basis. As described below, the FAA could add incentives to encourage shippers to enter into this program.

hazmat sms faa

Hazmat shippers would perform a safety risk assessment of the goods which it distributes and most importantly of the internal processes which are applied before a decision is made to transport any product. Specific criteria and procedures could be developed by the SMS team is before shipping any Hazmat. The initial work product would not have to be complex and could be done using a tool like SMS Pro.

hazmat sms faa

SMS involves continuous quality improvement principles. After the initial guidelines are implemented, the SMS company would track how well this approach is performing; in particular, the committee is charged with identifying risks on an on-going basis.

The results of this work can be shared with the FAA, the carriers and other shippers. The dissemination of new better techniques will reduce the incidence of HazMat risks,

The added benefit mentioned above?  The FAA found in the initial stages of the adoption of SMS by the air carriers that the cooperation which is key to this new approach conflicted with the confrontation of a punitive enforcement program. To alleviate this impediment to the potential safety gains of SMS, it announced a new compliance program which preferred cooperation over penalties. The establishment of a comprehensive SMS culture within the shippers would justify the kinder, gentler approach.

Hazmat is just another potential safety risk that should be reported assessed and managed like any other safety event. It is not likely that the FAA, which is embroiled in preaching the SMS gospel to airports, will have the time to lead the inclusion of SMS into the shipping sector, but if a company or one of the shipping associations were to commission the creation of SMS documents by a capable firm, which would assist in the application of this risk-based, data-driven discipline to the carriage of hazmat, the FAA would likely welcome this advance and accord the industry the non-punitive status.

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2 Comments on "SMS may help HazMat shippers to lower safety risks & no FAA civil penalties"

  1. The SMS regulatory reference you posted was for an Airports SMS. It is for 139 AIRPORT operations.

    The appropriate SMS to reference would be one that applies to the 121 air carriers and it is Part 5. The FAA also has a voluntary SMS program for other aircraft operators that is available in the 8900.1 Volume 17, Chapter 4.

    The proper reference will bode far better for shippers utilizing air carriers.

  2. Sandy Murdock | January 3, 2017 at 7:14 pm | Reply

    thanks good point; appreciate your reading our content!

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