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Dangerous goods

hazmatlabelsA random survey carried out by the US Department of Transportation regarding how observant US drivers were to safety symbols placed on commercial vehicles revealed some interesting results. There was a stark contrast to what was assumed as high safety-awareness knowledge by drivers about chemical symbols on commercial vehicles.

In fact, there appeared to be an almost non-existent awareness of the same symbols. Most drivers indicated that they could only relate to the symbols if there some kind of graphic attached to the symbol.

During the past 20 years as the number of vehicles on Barbados’ roads soared passed the 100,000 mark, a similar unofficial estimate was made regarding Barbadian drivers’ awareness of the chemical symbols.

The majority of Barbadian drivers pay little attention to the types of products transported on a daily basis on the highways, roads, and often through residential areas of the island. Furthermore, most drivers are not even aware of the inherent dangers that some of the products possess, and the implication of what could happen if a major traffic accident occurred involving these products.

Products listed as dangerous goods transported on Barbadian roads include: pressurised cylinders containing gases such as oxygen, acetylene, propane, carbon dioxide, helium and nitrogen; combustible liquids such as aviation fuel, gasoline and diesel. All of these dangerous goods share the same streets and highways.

In addition, the transporting of sewerage waste is also an additional hazard which is generally ignored by drivers. These products are carried on varying vehicle types. With the exception of commercial fuels and sewerage trucks, the majority of vehicles were not designed to carry such items, but the apparent lack of highway safety enforcement by some authorities allows this practice to continue unabated.

Dangerous goods are solids, liquids, or gases that can harm people, other living organisms, property, or the environment. They are often subject to chemical regulations. In the United States and in Canada dangerous goods are more commonly known as hazardous materials, which require the response of specially trained personnel known as “HAZMAT Teams” to specifically respond to incidents involving these dangerous goods.

Dangerous goods include materials that are radioactive, flammable, explosive, corrosive, oxidizing, asphyxiating, bio-hazardous, toxic, pathogenic, or allergenic. Also included are physical conditions such as compressed gases and liquids or hot materials, including all goods containing such materials or chemicals, or may have other characteristics that render them hazardous in specific circumstances.

Dangerous goods are often indicated by diamond-shaped signage on the item or product, its container, and/or the building where it is stored. The colours of each diamond symbol has reference to its hazard i.e.: Flammable = Red because fire and heat are generally of red colour, Explosive = Orange, because mixing red (flammable) with Yellow (oxidising agent) creates orange. Non-flammable Non-toxic Gas = Green, due to all compressed air vessels being this colour in France after World War II. France is reported as where the diamond system of HAZMAT identification originated.

Dangerous goods shipments also require a special declaration form prepared by the shipper. Among the information that is generally required includes the shipper’s name and address; the consignee’s name and address; descriptions of each of the dangerous goods, along with their quantity, classification, and packaging; and emergency contact information.

Common formats include the one issued by the International Air Transport Association for air shipments and the form by the International Maritime Organisation for sea cargo.

Packing groups are used for the purpose of determining the degree of protective packaging required for dangerous goods during transportation, they are:

* Group I: great danger, and highest protective packaging required. Some combinations of different classes of dangerous goods on the same vehicle or in the same container are forbidden if one of the goods is in Group I.

* Group II: medium danger.

* Group III: least danger among regulated goods, and least protective packaging within the transportation requirement.

Ironically, one of the international transport regulations enforced by IATA and the IMO, but tardily monitored or required in the Caribbean, with the exception of the Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, is that as an assistance during emergency situations, written instructions on how to respond and managed such incidents need to be carried and easily accessible in the driver’s cabin. A licence or permit card for hazmat training must be presented when requested by officials.

In preparing this column, some of the following transport behaviours were observed on all of the highways of Barbados;

1. Poorly contained and packaged pressurised containers on various types of trucks and vans.

2. Excessive speeding of vehicles transporting domestic cooking gas containers; promoting an advertisement which states that using cooking gas is good for the environment.

3. Overloaded trucks carrying gas cylinders with inadequate packing or retaining straps around the containers.

4. Drivers and other persons smoking while transporting gas cylinders or supplying customers with products.

5. Speeding septic trucks constantly switching lanes and playing “Russian Roulette” with the lives and health of other drivers and pedestrians on the roads; a practice which further promotes the continued use of bleach and increased health care costs to the victim.

6. Leaking oil from poorly maintained vehicles creating havoc for other drivers on the majority of the roads, forcing the closure of the road while clean-up is done.

7. Indiscriminately parked trucks loaded with products while drivers exchange pleasantries completely disregarding the needs of others and backing up traffic from one junction to another.

8. Drivers carrying unauthorised personnel on vehicles carrying dangerous goods, completely oblivious to the issues of public liability and that of the owner of the vehicles, should any of these persons be injured during a traffic accident.

9. Container trucks carrying items branded as “Dangerous Goods” inside containers unknown to other drivers, while travelling at excessive speeds; a practice for which could extremely beneficial to funeral homes.

In September 2007, a truck carrying Carbon Dioxide developed a leak while travelling on Tweedside Road, which forced the closure of the entire road. No lives were lost, but several persons succumbed to the gas; which, in an uncontrolled environment, will create an oxygen deficient atmosphere, rendering any who may contact with it feeling nausea, dizziness, temporarily unconscious, or in extreme cases death in an enclosed room.

The highways of Barbados were designed to meet the needs of the population, however the laws governing their use are violated almost every day by persons transporting dangerous goods. Fortunately for the travelling public, no catastrophe has yet occurred in which lives were lost or private and public property was destroyed.

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