30 years ago

Since this column started two years ago to mark our 30th anniversary, it has been illuminating to look back to the early days of HCB and see how little has changed. Sure, there have been improvements in overall safety levels, there have of course been massive strides in IT – no email in those days, for one thing – and new products and designs rolling off the drawing board.

January 1982 HCB Front CoverBut looking at the January 1982 issue, the reader is struck immediately by how familiar editor Mike Corkhill’s comments sound even today. As he wrote at the time:

Carriers lambast the shippers and their agents for submitting, on occasion, goods that are incorrectly declared, packaged and/or labelled. And if they transport goods by sea, these carriers often have unkind words for the port authorities who, they contend, impose unrealistic and archaic quantity restrictions on certain classes of dangerous goods on board ships transiting their ports.

So far, so familiar. But he went on:

On the other side of the coin, shippers say that too often their correctly documented, packaged and labelled goods are loaded by the carrier with scant regard for proper stowage and securing, not to mention segregation.

Ah well, maybe the next Amendment to the IMDG Code will help sort that one out. But wait, there’s more: 

And if that isn’t enough, these various industry sectors are not above joining forces to censure the perpetrators of dangerous goods transport regulations and the lack of unison on that side of the fence. … industry often feels frustrated by the attitude of certain national competent authority staff who insist on doing everything by the book. They contend that these civil servants often do not remain in a department long enough to become familiar with the job.

There were other complaints too: that most of the work of the regulatory authorities is undertaken by a handful of committed countries; that the various modal authorities even within countries fail to communicate, resulting in different positions being taken on the same topic at different regulatory fora; and that ‘junior’ legislators are too keen to defer any decision they feel unable to make.

On the other hand, Mike said, “Despite the current cool economic climate [still sounds familiar], most companies remain firmly committed to further improving the sound safety record of dangerous goods transport.”

Indeed, he concluded that the regulators and industry have “already produced the wherewithal to ensure the safe transport of hazardous cargoes”. Those regulations have developed further in the 30 years since he wrote those words; that process has not been without argument and disagreement and the process continues still. Nevertheless, it is that dialectic process of argument that has provided the basis for regulatory improvement. The friction at the modal interface is one way that regulations move forward and we should not be frightened of it – merely be aware.

And all of that is just as true today as it was in January 1982.

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