I’ve spent most of my professional life as a shipper but I love carriers. Why do I love carriers? Lots of reasons. The best health benefits I’ve ever had at any job paid 100% of the cost of the birth of one of my amazing daughters and my employer was a parcel carrier. I love the romanticized idea of ocean carriers, with seas, skies, salt air and the cries of sea birds. (There’s no need to respond to me about diesel fumes, foul waters, ceaseless engine throb and bad weather as I kind of like my romantic notions). Besides, even ferries get to see the amazing junctions between water and land, whether rural or cities, coastlines, river banks, fjords or beaches. I love railroads, partly because most people don’t know how much DG is really carried piggy-back by rail, and partly because rail have been pioneers in electronic shipping papers and data transfers. I love air carriers not just because I used to work (with wonderful benefits) for a parcel carrier, but also because air carriers move me, no small task, from my porch swing to my paying customers and back. I have a commercial driver’s license, with a hazardous materials endorsement, and if I can’t afford a big RV (recreational vehicle) if ever retirement rolls around, maybe my wife and I will trade in the porch swing for a big rig, husband and wife, tandem driving vehicle. And even now, as a trainer and consultant, some of the food put upon my table is paid for by carrier customers. Yes I’m a big fan of carriers.
As much as I love carriers though, I keep finding shipper customers that must love them more. Wouldn’t that explain why, despite paying me for training and advice, they prefer to rely on carriers for expertise? Please allow me to share a few examples.
A customer service representative had trouble believing that it was wrong for a customer to return UN1230, methanol, in a package marked UN1170, ethanol. Her advice to her customer, to reuse the ethanol box because they had no new UN-specification system couldn’t be wrong she said, because “the carrier picked it up”. I don’t know, maybe she loves carriers because she thinks they have x-ray vision.
Hey, x-ray vision, what a great explanation. The next example could be explained by x-ray vision coupled with detailed classification expertise. After an unfortunate transportation incident (no one was hurt) suggested to a customer that one of their products was actually a DG, and not just socks or rocks in a box, the customer was astonished that a complete product line review showed several other products were not non-hazardous either. Again, the reason they were surprised was that the airlines and the trucking companies had never told them. In fact, after a great deal of effort finally convinced them that the products are dangerous goods, they still wanted to know why their carriers hadn’t long ago informed them of their own (shipper’s) classification error.
Or most recently, a shipper refused to believe that the UN-specification packaging manufacturer’s closure (assembly) instructions had to be complied with. When I informed my customer their tape was the wrong type, not wide enough, and was not applied far enough over the edges of the 4G box, despite the clear closure instructions printed on the box flaps, I received the now familiar response “but, our carrier has been accepting it for years”. Oh boy, I know, you don’t have to tell me, x-ray vision again. I suppose that’s almost as reasonable an explanation as the carrier looking up and contacting the packaging manufacturer for the closure instructions, and then measuring the outside of the package for partial compliance. Partial compliance, I say, because the carrier still couldn’t know about the proper use of cushioning inside, nor of inner container closures, nor of proper orientation.
Acceptance by a carrier is NOT a verification that every shipper function has been properly performed! It is only verification that obviously visible functions appear to have been completed, if not necessarily compliantly, at least consistently. So, what’s obvious to some, but not to others, is that carrier acceptance should not be used in place of a shipper’s own quality controls and self-checks.
I love carriers, but carriers aren’t usually shippers and carriers don’t have super powers, and carriers aren’t omniscient, they’re just carriers.

Written 11/27//2012 for HCB Magazine