The air transport industry handles in excess of 1.25 million dangerous goods shipments per year, according to Nick Careen, a Senior Vice President at IATA. What exactly are these hazardous materials, though? And what special measures are required to ensure the safe transportation of dangerous goods by air?
This article will break down the process of shipping hazardous materials by air into a series of questions that you should ask yourself before you contact your IATA-certified shipper, saving you time and effort in the process of shipping dangerous goods.
The Irish Aviation Authority states that “Dangerous Goods are articles or substances which are capable of posing a risk to health, safety, property or the environment”. The UN is explicit as to what counts, breaking down hazardous materials into 9 dangerous goods classes to ensure that any would-be shipper is made fully aware of their responsibilities. The UK government also provides a helpful breakdown of these categories that can assist in defining air cargo as “dangerous”.
It’s crucial that this information is understood by all, as everyone – from the clients themselves to the IATA-certified shippers that they employ – shares in the responsibility for safety. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency notes that “some of the goods we use in our everyday life seem harmless… However, they may be very dangerous when transported by air”. This means that, as well as those cargoes that spring to mind when we hear the word “HAZMAT”, diligence is required even when bringing simple household items on commercial flights.
Clearly, then, there is a quagmire of global regulation that surrounds the carriage of dangerous goods by air. Every country and authority has its own sense of what is required, alongside which are a myriad of responsibilities and liabilities. Asking the following series of basic questions will help to demystify this process, ensuring that you can get whatever you need to wherever you need it quickly, safely, and with minimal fuss.
What is My Cargo?
First things first: establish that the dangerous goods you’re transporting are actually classified as dangerous. This might seem redundant, but most regulations are fairly specific about their hazardous cargo lists, so it’s always worth checking your exact item against the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulation or the aforementioned UN dangerous goods classes before you enlist the help of an IATA-certified shipper.
This can help you avoid selecting a shipping company, making arrangements for the safe transport of dangerous goods by air, and potentially paying extra for a specific service only to find out afterward that you didn’t need to. Even if you’re certain that what you’re transporting is HAZMAT-worthy, it pays to be certain, as some regulations stipulate those certain goods, while dangerous, might not require special transport arrangements in specific quantities.
What’s the Worst that Could Happen?
This might just be classic British pessimism, but where anything with any degree of risk is concerned it’s always best to ask this question. Logically, you can then start from there to work out how to prevent that from happening. This might sound daunting, but it’s quite straightforward, and it’s exactly what any good hazardous goods transport provider will do on their end.
Put simply, they will:
- Determine the worst possible potential outcome for your HAZMAT cargo;
- Take whatever steps necessary to eliminate, or as far as possible mitigate this risk.
If this sounds easy, remember that the devil’s in the detail – after all, there’s a reason these services are more expensive than sending a greetings card to a loved one! From the perspective of the client, though, simple steps can be taken to ensure that your dangerous cargo has the easiest, most hassle-free flight of its life. If there are peculiarities unique to the hazardous goods that you’re sending, for example, then a step that could reduce risk would be to ensure that the shipping company you’re using is fully informed of this.
We might be used to the idea that everyone likes surprises, but in this industry, the opposite is true. A boring, event-free transit is the golden standard for those involved in the carriage of dangerous goods by air, so be sure to keep your provider in the loop at all times.
What is my Destination?
This might seem redundant – you’re thinking “of course I know where I’m going”. Hear us out, though; there are all sorts of local peculiarities that can further complicate the safe transport of dangerous goods by air. Let’s take an example: you’ve answered the first question, and have determined that your shipment of smartphones to Iran contains Lithium-Ion Batteries. You’ve consulted the IATA’s advice on the topic, and are about to contact an IATA-certified shipper to handle your correctly-identified dangerous goods. On paper, it might seem like you’re good to go, but a closer look at the laws specific to your destination will tell you that you’re not allowed to import these items for reasons that have nothing to do with their certification as potentially hazardous materials.
Any good shipping company will be au fait with these regulations ahead of time, but it’s always good to be sure yourself, even if simply to avoid the surprise of being told that you’re unable to do what you’d planned. However, less reputable providers might miss this key information, saddling you with hefty fines or potentially more severe repercussions upon the arrival of your shipment. The more obscure your destination, the more this kind of knowledge and research can prove to be crucial to ensure a smooth operation when shipping your dangerous goods.
Who is my Provider?
It’s important to select a provider that suits your needs. On the face of it, you might be thinking that all dangerous goods shipping providers are the same. This isn’t like hiring a taxi, though, where whoever you go with is simply going to take you from A to B – there are layers of service that each hazardous goods handling company might provide. Let’s take packaging, for instance. Are you expected to produce your shipment perfectly packaged and ready for transport? Or will your dangerous cargo be packaged end-to-end by the provider that you go with? If you haven’t asked yourself this question – or if you weren’t aware that this question could even be asked – perhaps it’s time to do a little more research between handlers before googling “dangerous goods shipping” and diving in.
Another layer to this is certification. Everyone has their own opinions about “red tape” and the devils of bureaucracy, but in instances like this, it’s clear to see why it exists. Selecting a random provider runs the risk of receiving a sub-standard – potentially even dangerous – service, so why not go with an IATA-certified shipper? You could trawl through every provider until you find one you’re satisfied with, or you could trust the IATA to do it for you. After all, they spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars per year assessing the quality of every dangerous goods shipper.
What are my Responsibilities?
Building on the previous question, now that you’ve selected a provider you should be better equipped to answer the question of what you need to do. It’s important to remember that shipping dangerous goods is an involved process that requires responsibility, active management, and diligence from all parties. If your shipping provider is expecting you to properly package your hazardous materials in-line with industry standards and you’re nervously glancing at the cardboard box in your hand, then somewhere there’s been a breakdown in the communication of expectations.
Any difficulties in this area can be remedied by a simple email, and it’s always worth double-checking anything that you’re unsure of. Anxieties about appearing foolish can easily be overcome by considering the potential cost – financial or otherwise – of getting things wrong when shipping dangerous goods, so get chatting!
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