Hidden Dangerous Goods

Nowadays goods become more and more complex many of them containing substances which can harm health and environment. These commodities often represent hidden dangerous goods. Examples vary from batteries contained in the equipment to goods containing magnetized material – like speakers.

Transportation of such goods is a challenge for even the most prepared and seasoned forwarders. The result often is extensive discussion with the customers who pretend that their loads are not to be classified as hazardous material from one side and the claim of the carriers that the goods to be transported present risk to the safety of carriage. Air cargo transportation is the most concerned mode but this discussion is not rare when ocean transportation is negotiated as well.
Of course between the customer and carrier is the forwarder who takes all the negatives at the end.

This unpleasant discussion can be avoided if approached carefully and with necessary professional care.

Our experience as forwarders should alarm us anytime when getting the booking we bump into commodity which is likely to contain hazardous materials which are hidden to the customers. Typical example – batteries in equipment. I have recently carried shipment of electrical torches from USA to the Middle East. All looked OK until the carrier  – once they accepted the booking, has refused to load the shipment. The problem – unproper labeling from the shipper. The result – heavy additional cost for moving the freight back to shipper’s premises for re-labeling. In this case the customer accepted that it was the shippers fault that the packages were not properly labeled and they have beared the cost. But my question is why this shipment has been delivered to the airline at all. Why no one from the forwarding party at origin have ever noticed that this shipment is not “Ready for carriage” and why the shipper was not alarmed in front – before delivering to the airline.

It appears that the matter is a bit of a “twilight zone” for carriers and forwarders.

So what to do. As no one of course is able to know all the commodities and how to classify them, there are some simple rules which if followed can avoid disputes with customers or will soften them.

First thing, which everyone of us should do is to insist, when booking a freight or making proposal, to get not only the weight and dimension of the freight but also to request for the commodity. This is obvious, someone might say. Is it really obvious, however?  Think how many times when negotiating with customer on your question “what is the commodity” you received the answer “General cargo”? If you have never received such an answer – you are lucky one.

Second thing. When you know the commodity ask yourself – does this commodity contain hidden hazmat. I am sure that every forwarder with more than 2 years of experience can think and answer in 90% of the cases with yes or no to this question. If the answer is positive or in doubt, simply ask for the MSDS – each trader and producer has such a sheet. In most of the cases if goods have MSDS this means that it is probable that they are harmful to some extend. And to what extend it is – you can find in the MSDS.

Third thing. Check the MSDS. You do not even need to go through the whole of it. Just go at the Transportation and Storage sections and read – these are normally one two sentences – what it writes there.  If MSDS states that the goods have not special requirements for transportation – you can easily go ahead.  If you find the abbreviation UNxxxx where xxxx are four digits, stay tuned. The goods are dangerous so you need to consult with the DGR specialist in your company and the carrier.

Following this three simple steps will help you to alleviate potential conflicts with customers helping both them and yourself.

I would be happy if you share with me and the readers of this blog your experience, comments and thoughts.

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2 thought on “Hidden Dangerous Goods”

  1. John Nugent says:

    To avoid potentially unpleasent problems when haz-mat is “unknowingly” included in a shipment, we have the customer sign to say that they will be responsible for any additional freight charges or fines levied by the FAA if any undeclared restricted items are found in their shipments. We also let them know that FAA fines start around $10,000 per infringement and fines over $100,000.00 are not unusual for multiple violations.
    We also try to educate our customers as to what commodities are likely to be risky.

  2. Kerry Slaven says:

    I am a hazardous materials transportation trainer, and get numerous stories like this from the local forwarders in Denver seeking my advise.
    Customers want to argue that their stuff isn’t hazardous, usually don’t have sufficient (if any) training, and are typically overwhelmed by the regulations.But I think that forwarders should have deeper training to do a better job of inspecting before accepting.

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