Interview

“We face continuous changes!”

The number of consignments classified as dangerous goods is on the increase. Even in industries previously unaffected by this topic. And yet, each of these transports has to be handled securely, carefully and in compliance with all the rules. A challenging task for Dr. Norbert Müller, DB Schenker’s Global Dangerous Goods Coordinator

Apart from his job as Global Dangerous Goods Coordinator at DB Schenker, Dr. Norbert Müller is also an honorary professor at the SRH University for Logistics and Economics. Photo: private
Apart from his job as Global Dangerous Goods Coordinator at DB Schenker, Dr. Norbert Müller is also an honorary professor at the SRH University for Logistics and Economics. Photo: private

Dr. Müller, what are the latest developments at DB Schenker concerning dangerous goods?

The importance of this issue is growing continuously! In 2016, our European land transport network alone handled two million dangerous goods consignments, from lacquers to alcohol-based wet wipes, that potentially present a hazard. They range from physical dangers like fire or explosion, over health risks, including poisoning or skin corrosion, to environmental threats. Compared with 2015, that constitutes an increase of seven percent. These transports have to comply with the regulations set out in the European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR). Drivers need to prove they have received specific training, the truck needs to be fully equipped with fire extinguishers as well as personal protection. Additionally, they have to be labeled with a warning sign, and much more besides.

 

The task sounds complicated but not insurmountable. After all, the United Nations classified hazardous goods decades ago and the relevant provisions should be sufficiently well-known by now.

It’s not that simple! The rules and regulations are constantly being changed. As a result of these new criteria or limit values, goods that were previously deemed harmless now actually fall under the new provisions. The United Nations have assigned a four number digit to each dangerous substance; gasoline, for example, bears the classification “UN 1203.” During the 2017 to 2019 “transitional period,” new UN numbers were added. Just take bisphenol A, for example. This organic synthetic compound, which is used to make plastics, is transported as a powder in silo trucks. It has only been covered by the regulations since 2014. 20 years ago, its potential risk for water pollution was not yet a criterion. As yet, however, this substance has not been assigned a UN number; instead, it falls under – among other things – the hazardous substances identification required by the EU. So you see, it’s very complicated!

Surely chemical companies producing these substances and forwarding agents tasked with their transport should be particularly knowledgeable on issues concerning hazardous goods and respond quickly when changes are announced…

That is certainly true. And there are established processes in place in industries like the automotive sector, where quite a number of parts have to be transported as dangerous goods. However, in the meantime we see companies coming into contact with dangerous goods that never dreamed they would be in this position. That goes for manufacturers as well as retailers. This is mainly due to the triumphal march of lithium batteries that are now found in all manner of products, from cellphones to e-cigarettes and e-bikes. Imagine a salesperson in a supermarket who has to send a defective battery back to the manufacturer or work station. He is required to know that the battery needs to be enclosed in special packaging along with specific documentation. And he has to make sure the forwarding agent is aware of that. The rules and regulations regarding lithium batteries, in particular, have become so complex that it is impossible for an occasional consigner to digest all that information.

 

How does DB Schenker support the forwarders?

Wherever possible, we make them aware of peculiarities or amendments. We have initiated a project with a major customer who dispatches powerbanks, activity trackers and watches. This involves “marrying” article numbers with their hazardous material specifications. As a result, packers in the warehouse are shown the specific requirements on a monitor. In addition, we intend to introduce a screening program that will automatically scan electronic shipping documents and check for the relevant terminology. If it detects a shipment that falsely has not been declared as hazardous, then we inform the customer.

 

What happens if the regulations are not complied with?

Government inspections often hold consignments back. Even if it is only a case of a consignor mistaking incense candles, which are unproblematic, with sparklers. Authorities in the United States impose drastic fines when penalizing violations and publish them in the Code of Federal Regulations. I have, however, noticed during my global dangerous goods audits that there are certain regions where the system of controls and sanctions is less punitive. But we at DB Schenker will not tolerate a two-tier society when it comes to the transport of dangerous goods. We have our standards and they have to be respected globally!

 

How do you ensure that the dangerous goods transported by DB Schenker are handled securely?

Everyone involved with this issue, whether physically or from an administrative point of view, should do everything right. That is why I conduct the aforementioned audits to assess whether the dangerous goods management systems on site actually comply with the legal and internal requirements. This allows us to identify possible weaknesses and optimize the quality. Secondly, it is also a question of information. Every three months I send those colleagues responsible a newsletter containing all the regulatory changes. And thirdly: we have implemented the regulations into Standard Operating Procedures. To ensure that our employees understand and enforce them correctly, we conduct e-learning courses and face-to-face training sessions. The aim of all this is to protect our employees and make sure that dangerous goods reach their destination as punctually and as intact as all other consignments.

Caution, toxic! However, around 80 percent of all dangerous goods are flammable liquids like gasoline, fuel oils, adhesives or alcohols. Typically, the chemical industry and chemical trade account for the highest proportion of dangerous goods

Photo:  Stefan Wildhirt



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