My children have this look.  It involves cocking the head just a bit to the side, squinting the eyes slightly, and seemingly saying to themselves “he has spent most of his life in the past century”.  I can earn this look by coming out with some old saying they’ve never heard before.  Most recently, I earned it from two of my children at once, three of whom had been sharing details about a friend who was trying to change behavior in order to win back a sweetheart who’d just broken the relationship off.  “Closing the barn door after the horse is gone”, I’d said.  Wham, double-barreled look.

Hopefully, you know that this expression refers to actions taken too late to have the desired effect.  Just as the relationship behavior should have been changed before there was no more relationship, so too, should a barn door be closed before, not after, the livestock wander out of the barn you want them to stay in.  Many times, to be fair, these actions are much more visible in hindsight, than when they’d’ve been most effective.  For example, during regulatory changes.

Regulatory changes don’t begin on the effective date of the new rules, and they don’t begin when regulators announce the new rules.  They begin when regulators start discussing potential new rules.  Regulators announce their discussions in two general ways.  In the USA there is a Federal Register announcement of an NPRM/ANPRM (Notice of Proposed RuleMaking, or Advance NPRM), and at UN, ADR, ICAO, et cetera, they publish an online list of papers (working papers, discussion papers, information papers).  It is during the deliberation and discussion phase of the regulatory change process that the most influence over the rules can be had, sometimes even including the killing of a proposal.  After the public input, working groups, compromises, reviews, philosophical consideration, and in depth wordsmithing, regulators are understandably reluctant to change their published ‘final’ decisions.  Unfortunately, many, if not most of the regulated community don’t share their concerns about new rules until after they’ve been announced as final, and not during the earlier portion of the process.  Consequently, some legitimate issues over new rules don’t get fully addressed.

So, if you want to make sure that your input is given full attention and consideration by regulators, you must comment, either directly or through trade associations (such as DGAC, COSTHA, or DGTA), early in the process, and not after the announcement of the finalized new rule.  Here are some of the topics currently under consideration by regulators somewhere.  Some may be given more serious consideration than others, and some may take a long time to resolve, but if you might be affected by any of these, it’s better to get involved sooner rather than later.

  • According to the US DOT’s own statistics, the rate of damages for non-bulk packages keeps rising. It has been suggested by some that this could be due to the increased percentage of DG (HazMat) shipments handled by parcel carriers such as UPS and FedEx, instead of by full truckload or LTL.  Parcel carriers use conveyor belts, and mechanical arms, and sliding boards, and other packaging handling technology to efficiently sort and move these packages.  But this technology also sometimes subjects packages to different forces and positioning than does LTL or full truckload handling.  It may or may not be primarily an orientation issue, although parcel handling environments certainly have packages upside down more often than LTL environments, and may or may not be due to conveyer belt burns, package crushing, whacking from mechanical arms, and greatly increased drop heights, but certainly there are active advocates for changing the UN package testing system that allows box packagings to earn uncert certification marks.  This would be a sea change (oops, another old-fashioned expression) for the specification box packaging manufacturers and testers as well as for anyone that purchases or uses them.
  • There are test data to prove that certain concentrations of HCl in water, a.k.a. Hydrochloric Acid, although having a pH well below 1, are not corrosive to aluminum, are not corrosive to steel, and not corrosive to skin, at least using current transport definitions of Class 8 (corrosive). But, there are active papers attempting to change the definitions of Class 8 to include all materials with pH below 2.  This would include very many materials not now regulated as DG, not just some Hydrochloric Acid.
  • There are proposals that would further blur the distinction between marks and labels, despite labels being a hazard threshold for placarding and for segregation, that would create Class 9 labels with marks incorporated into them. While potentially wonderful news for shippers of tiny packages and for adhesive-backed sticker manufacturers, it would make life more difficult for trainers, for those who load vehicles, and those who are responsible for hazard communication on the outside of packages.

Don’t give me that look next time any new rule that you didn’t comment on gives you problems.  You’ve been given fair warning about your barn door.


Written 8/8/2014 for HCB Magazine