On February 3rd, 2023, a freight train operated by Norfolk Southern derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. 10 of the 50 train cars derailed were carrying hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride, a highly toxic commercial gas chemical. The aftermath of the derailment has been devastating, forcing evacuations and causing damage to land, water, and communities. Many are criticizing Norfolk Southern for not complying with basic safety regulations, like proper brakes and honest classification of materials. While this event in Ohio has undoubtedly received the most news coverage and attention, similar situations have happened across the country with carriers transporting hazardous chemicals and products. Trucking fleets often carry hazardous materials and could be at risk for an accident that causes sufficient damages or losses. So while the recent train derailments and multiple chemical explosions are a tragic series of events, they serve as a good reminder that all transportation businesses should improve their safety precautions, and risk management plans.
What Defines Hazmat Trucking?
Hazmat trucking is defined as fleets that transport hazardous materials including certain gasses, poisons, radioactive waste, hazardous waste, and other chemicals. These materials are defined as hazardous either when they are a danger on their own, or if they are a danger when in contact with fire, air, gas, or common chemicals. The department of transportation (DoT) has a classification system for all hazardous materials, that can identify the type and severity of hazards being transported. The 9 classifications of hazardous materials are:
- Class 1: Explosives
- Class 2: Gases
- Class 3: Flammable Liquids
- Class 4:Flammable Solids
- Class 5: Oxidizing Substances
- Class 6: Toxic and Infectious Substances
- Class 7: Radioactive Substances
- Class 8: Corrosive Materials
- Class 9: Miscellaneous Hazardous Materials
Vehicles carrying any substances that fall in any of the above classifications of materials are required to mark the vehicle with a placard that states the hazard class, as well as carry ID cards and paperwork for each class of materials being transported. Communicating the hazard enables better planning and proper response in the event of an accident, and also helps companies take the optimal preparation to avoid any unnecessary damage or losses.
Ensuring Proper Transporation of Hazardous Materials
The first step in ensuring the safe transportation of hazardous materials is accurately defining what materials are being transported, and classifying them according to the guide provided by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Once the materials have been clearly defined, businesses should alert all drivers and handlers of the details of the transport. According to the FMSCA and DoT, aside from some exceptions, all drivers handling hazardous transport must receive a state-issued endorsement to their commercial driving license in order to operate the vehicle.
Once you have a qualified driver, there are additional safety precautions that must be taken in order to prevent loss or damage. All drivers and individuals involved with the transportation, loading, unloading, storing, and handling must receive training on general awareness and processes for hazardous materials. The training should be administered by a professional or qualified source, and prep employees on all possible scenarios.
Additionally, fleets carrying hazardous materials must take special precautionary measures that ensure safe handling during transportation. The FMCSA requires hazardous transport to use specific securement devices and processes to avoid any loose cargo. Some of these requirements include:
Cargo that is at risk of movement or rolling is required to be properly restrained by wedges, cradles, or approved tools for rolling prevention. The methods used to prevent rolling must not be capable of coming loose or undone during transportation. Safety checks and inspections may be required depending on the state and materials being transported.
Tiedowns are a combination of securing devices that attach and restrain cargo to the bed of the trailer. Regulations from DoT are based on the weight and dimension of the cargo being transported. Standard regulations for cargo tie-downs include:
- Articles 5 feet long or shorter weighing 1,100 pounds or less, require one tie-down
- Articles 5 feet long or shorter weighing over 1,100 pounds require two tie-downs.
- Articles longer than 5 feet but shorter than 10 feet require two tie-downs
- An additional tie-down is required for every 10-foot increment for articles longer than 10 feet
- Articles weighing 10,000 pounds or more require tie-downs at all four corners.
There are specific regulations for tie-downs of certain materials, which should be confirmed prior to transportation. Additionally, fleets carrying hazardous materials should have evacuation plans and safety gear on the vehicle for the entire duration of transportation, loading, and unloading. This will ensure that proper protocols are followed in the event of an emergency, and all persons involved can protect themselves from harmful substances or materials.
Hazmat Trucking Insurance
Though these safety precautions can prevent a significant amount of accidents from occurring, there is still a high risk of damage and loss when transporting hazardous goods. This type of transportation is considered the most dangerous, due to the nature of the cargo. Additionally, these losses can prove to be higher in cost than a standard transportation incident. While your commercial fleet likely carries standard transportation insurance, you may need a separate hazmat trucking insurance policy if you plan to transport any hazardous cargo.
A hazmat trucking insurance policy is specifically designed to protect your business against losses related to hazardous chemicals and goods. Coverages in this type of policy will cover the standard areas like general liability, collision, comprehensive, and excess liability. These coverage types will include specific losses related to hazardous goods that wouldn’t be found on a standard commercial trucking policy.
Most importantly, hazmat coverage will cover pollution liability. Pollution liability endorsements will cover the cost of any clean-up expenses or damages arising from pollutants of the hazardous cargo. This coverage is mandated by state and federal law, and higher coverage is always recommended as these claims can reach high costs. As seen in the recent Ohio train derailment, damage from pollutants is extremely unpredictable and dangerous. Having the most comprehensive coverage is the best way to protect your business in the event of a claim or accident.
Trucking Insurance with ECBM
Whether you're in the hazardous transportation industry, or standard commercial trucking, ECBM can help you protect your business. Our agents have extensive experience in regulations, coverage types, and coverage selection for individual needs. Contact us today for more information on how we can help your trucking business.