I like to say that Mother Nature only made a few perfect heads, and the rest she covered with hair. I’m also fond of claiming that high-quality thinking generates electric fields that kill hair follicles. Or maybe you could hear me say that a head full of thoughts leaves no room for hairs to put down roots. This last one is commonly my first response when a student (trainee) asks how I’ve managed to memorize so much of the various transport regulations. If well-delivered, my response will draw some laughs, which I then follow with my serious answer: Don’t, do not, don’t-don’t-don’t, memorize the regulations! Get some specific detail fixed in your memory, and the regulators will change the regulation, leaving you with non-compliance engraved in your brain. Regulations change; that’s why periodic re-training is required. Memorize, and in a few years incremental changes will accumulate to the point that you’ll become a dangerous goods dinosaur.

I don’t even really memorize the date I first started in the Dangerous Goods field, but I do remember it was less than a month before the appearance of my first-born, and she recently celebrated her 21st birthday. And it’s hard for me to think of something that hasn’t changed in those 21 years.

Some of the changes have been huge. I don’t think anyone misses them, but many remember when ADR had marginals. Also well-remembered, but little mourned, are IMDG’s “page numbers”, and IMDG’s multi-volume, loose-leaf binders of regulations. These changes are courtesy of pre-GHS harmonization, but are far from the only changes harmonization has wrought. I can remember when 49CFR (US DOT) used words instead of numbers for hazard classes, which I suppose means that for them, hazard divisions didn’t really exist. And, as many current DG practitioners know, the US DOT is still gradually eliminating the few named hazard classes they retained after switching over to the class and division numbering system, as the last of the ORM’s, ORM-D, is now scheduled for demise. What are the chances of getting that last one, Combustible Liquids, consigned to the scrap heap, too? I wish.

Certification statements provide a pretty good road map for reviewing regulatory changes, although they, themselves have been updated in the past couple decades, being re-worded to who know what end. I still have moments, lots of them, when I wonder if enforcement truly believes that any shipper goes back and alters any previous actions based upon the wording of a certification statement. Surely it’s the act of signing that’s important to a shipper, not the wording, and I think we’d be just as well off if we re-worded certification statements to “everything’s done right”. But I suppose attorneys, barristers, lawyers, advocats, and the like won’t ever let that simplification happen. Anyway, let’s return from that sidetrack to review regulatory changes based on current certification wording.

The first function, classification, has really had a lot of changes, although not always the ones that common sense would dictate. The UN has updated some of Class 1 tests and Class 2 has changed the pressure needed to put a non-flammable, non-toxic gas into it. Class 3 has changed the flash point threshold by a whopping ½ degree, although more work is needed to harmonize and become thoroughly internally consistent in regards to differences between open cup flash point tests and closed cup flash point tests. Class 4 has ‘sort of’ moved some desensitized explosives out of it, and into Class 3 instead, although depending upon the material, and depending upon the regulations, some liquid desensitized explosives remain in Division 4.1, without seeming regard to whether the desensitizing liquid is flammable or not. Class 5, mercifully, may be the only unchanged hazard class of the past 21 years, but is a great way to notify me of my ignorance. Class 6? Oh my, have both Division 6.1 and 6.2 changed! Some liquids left 6.1, and some solids joined 6.1, while reasoned risk analysis finally settled down 6.2. For scary and for reassuring perspectives on the regulatory creation process, look into the genesis of current 6.1 and 6.2 rules, respectively. Class 7 definitions have changed, although to be fair to DG regulators, this is probably more due to international ‘atomic energy’ regulatory changes than to any DG initiatives. Class 8 finally has some much-needed, at least from animal protection advocates point-of-view, changes allowing a variety of in vitro tests, although more work is probably necessary to weed out the ones that shouldn’t be considered reliable. And Class 9 has probably, heck definitely, seen the greatest changes of all. Two phrases: lithium batteries, and, environmentally hazardous substances/marine pollutants.

Whew, I’m running out of column room, and we haven’t even hit upon such major changes as performance oriented packagings (POP), sequence of information on documentation, the spread of emergency response phone number requirements, and LQ (LTD QTY, limited quantity) changes, nor such relatively minor changes as updates to the 5.2 label, Cargo Aircraft Only sticker, and 4.3 placard, nor changes in their infancy (my apologies to US railroads for my poor word choice) such as electronic documentation or the poorly-thought-out use of pH as Class 8 criterion.

I’m sure there’s not any DG (HazMat) function that hasn’t had significant changes during the past couple decades. In my humble opinion (IMHO), this shows the regulations are not as “mature” as I’ve heard suggested. What is nearing maturity, or at least should be, are me and my bald head. Thank goodness I don’t memorize regulations.

Although my wife would probably tell you, I’m not bald from memorizing regulations, it’s just that my head is bone, all the way through.

Written 1/2/2013 for HCB Magazine