Dangerous goods: Safe shipping requires cooperation throughout supply chain

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Cargo carriers are in agreement that safe shipment of products classified as dangerous goods largely depends on the involvement of shippers and buyers. In addition, greater diligence is needed by regulators, according to the man who heads IATA’s dangerous goods program.

“Overall, we have a robust system, but we have some challenges,” says Dave Brennan, IATA’s assistant director, cargo safety and standards. “We still have regulators who are not as engaged and as active as they should be. Too many regulators believe their role is to look at whether airlines are doing it properly and they just go out and audit airlines at the airport.”

Brennan notes that Annex 18 to the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation was modified to include language that regulators have a role to look at the entire supply chain.

“ICAO needs to be perhaps a little more engaged there to prod their member states to become more active and do what they are required to do,” Brennan says. “We will support them in any way we can.”

Brennan says IATA tries to promote the message that safety is everyone’s responsibility through sessions at the World Cargo Symposium, through its Dangerous Goods Board and through guidance documents.

“It starts with those who put dangerous goods in transport and continues with everyone who touches them. It’s a shared responsibility that goes the length of the supply chain. There is still an issue to an extent with some of the shipping community who are ignorant of their responsibility when they ship dangerous goods.”

The huge expansion of e-commerce in recent years has contributed to the challenge.

“There are some terrifying things for sale on eBay. They blithely say they will ship anywhere in the world. It really is a large problem driven by the person buying. Lithium batteries cause quite a lot of issues here. If someone who needs a new laptop battery looks on the website of HP or Dell, they find one for $60 or better. They then go on eBay and they can pick one up for $10. What they are buying are cheap knockoffs.”

Other dangerous goods purchased over the Internet include perfumes and chemicals. Buyers are fueling the demand for cheap and quick goods, Brennan says.

IATA is looking at ways to engage national newspapers to get the word out that there are two sides of the issue and that buyers are facilitating counterfeiting, Brennan says.

“They [buyers] are putting their-selves at risk and their equipment at risk for a dodgy battery. We are looking at playing the self-interest card. That always tends to work. The issue here is if lithium batteries are properly designed and tested and then shipped in accordance with regulations, we are not seeing problems.”

Brennan says air carriers like carrying this type of cargo because it generates good revenue, but they should have risk mitigation strategies. He says it’s also difficult to get accurate statistics on incidents with dangerous goods – and that can be frustrating.

“We are working with airlines and we ask them to share their incident data with me so we can get an understanding of the size of the problem and where it’s happening,” Brennan says. “At the moment, it’s a bit spasmodic. I tend to hear of the significant incidents, but I would like to hear of the ordinary ones as well.”

Carrying cargo that is considered dangerous goods is a significant business for Lufthansa, which carried about 45,000 tonnes of this type of cargo in about 140,000 shipments in 2013. This includes products such as flammable liquids, automobiles, motorcycles and environmentally hazardous substances.

Michael Marx, Lufthansa’s dangerous goods handling manager, says Lufthansa carries most types of dangerous goods, with the exceptions of fissile material and oxygen generators. He says Lufthansa puts great emphasis on training to handle dangerous goods.

“We have regular courses and provide a lot of guidelines and guidance materials for all of our staff. It is indeed a challenge. Regulations are hard to understand because there are so many exceptions and operational variations. That is why we focus on training. Besides the IATA regulations, we have regulations for road transportations. We also use ferry boats, so we have all kinds of different regulations.”

The process would work much better if global harmonization of regulations existed, Marx says. This would help all parties in the transportation chain, he says.

Marx says Lufthansa confines shipments with lithium batteries to class C compartments, which includes smoke and fire warning systems and a fire suppression or extinguishing system controllable from the flight deck.

“Lithium batteries are causing some headaches all over,” Marx says. “Having talked to other airlines, I know it’s a major problem because it’s a mass-produced product. Everyone owns a laptop, a mobile phone and a camera, whatever. Lithium batteries are all over. This is a question that has to be solved.”

Ami Baram is CAL Cargo’s dangerous goods supervisor and head of ground operation quality assurance. Baram, 64, joined the Tel Aviv-based cargo carrier in 1999 and has been loading aircraft since he was 16. He says the best part of his job is seeing a 747 take off with 120 tonnes of cargo, including a large shipment of dangerous goods.

“What more could I ask for?” Baram says.

Baram is a hands-on leader, and at least three times per week he loads and offloads the aircraft himself to ensure quality control and the staff’s expertise. He is a certified dangerous goods instructor and the only instructor in Israel who leads everyday operations in dangerous goods supervision.

“We are checking 24 hours a day, checking our cargo, our pilots and documents,” Baram says. “That is the way to avoid any dangerous good incidents.”

CAL Cargo is authorized to transport all nine classes of dangerous goods not only with airfreight, but also in ground transportation. The carrier was the first all-cargo airline to earn certification with the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) in 2008. CAL is certified by the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel as an in-house dangerous goods school, instructing CAL employees and external clients.

“We are a global player. Every minute of every day, one of our dangerous goods shipments is moving, so we have to ensure that the entire network is meeting safety regulations,” Rami Marom, CAL’s vice president ground operations and COO, says. “That’s challenging. We have to ensure that every change or update that comes from the regulators is carried out network-wise and that’s also challenging.”

Baram and Marom agree that transport of lithium batteries is the hottest issue in the industry. While many dangerous goods can be carried on either passenger or cargo planes, they believe that more and more dangerous goods will be defined as cargo aircraft only.

Marom says CAL encourages its staff to report problems they see during the loading process and learn from it. Tel Aviv is a hot area and many dangerous goods cannot be exposed to heat, so CAL air-conditions its aircraft prior to loading and restricts the amount of time cargo can be on the tarmac.

James Woodrow, Cathay Pacific’s director of cargo, says Cathay accepts all nine classes of dangerous goods and carried 236,107 tonnes in 2013. During the first half of 2014, Cathay uplifted 120,107 tonnes of dangerous goods.

Woodrow says Cathay adheres to all IATA Dangerous Goods regulations and also has its own standard operation procedure specifically designed for carrying dangerous goods.

“We very much value the continuous development of our staff’s expertise in the dangerous goods area, and all of Cathay’s cargo staff involved in dangerous goods operations must be trained and qualified according to both Cathay and IATA standards,” Woodrow says.

Cathay saw steady dangerous goods cargo growth last year, especially in the miscellaneous (9 percent) and dry ice (6 percent) categories.

“The challenge we see for the industry is to maintain a high level of safety awareness when transporting dangerous goods and intercept hidden items throughout the logistic chain from shipper, freight forwarder, to cargo warehouse, ramp handling agents and ultimately during air transportation.” Woodrow says. “This requires refreshing of dangerous goods knowledge from time to time and ensuring effective communications of key messages to all level of personnel effectively, including those new joiners to the industry, to ensure safe carriage.”

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