- Industry Links
- HCB Shop
A letter from the editor
What you are holding in your hand (or reading on the screen, though that is less romantic) represents something of a triumph. This is the 30th anniversary edition of Hazardous Cargo Bulletin, which means something like 360 issues have now been published. At a rough guess, that’s about 14 million words all about the transport of dangerous goods.
Quite a few of you were not in the business back in 1980 when the magazine started its life; indeed, I was not long out of university and still wondering what on earth I was going to do with my life. As things turned out, I’ve spent the past 16 years working here – enjoying some of the happiest times of my career so far.
Why do I say it’s a triumph to have got this far? Well, for one thing, a large proportion of business startups fail in the first year, so to get through that was an achievement in itself. And although we aim to provide a global coverage of what is undoubtedly a global industry, many of our readers are from the UK and other English-speaking territories and for many of these countries the 1980s marked a retreat from industrial production in favour of service-based industries.
Nevertheless, many of those industrial processes that produce or consume dangerous goods are fundamental to the quality of modern life – a life that has also changed immensely over the past three decades. Strange as it may seem to some of our younger readers, there was no such thing as the internet in those days – research was a much slower and more laborious process. Even word processors were in their infancy. As recently as 15 years ago, copy for the magazine was typed up and laid out by physically cutting and pasting pieces of paper – no such things as ctrl-X/ctrl-V in those days.
The ubiquitous nature of electronic communications these days is in fact one of the drivers for continued demand for petrochemicals – polymers, semi-conductors, LEDs and so on. The number of vehicles on the world’s streets is still increasing fast, generating more demand for chemicals. And the emergency of China and other nations into the first rank of world economies has provided a further fillip to energy and chemical demand.
Plus ça change
Looking back to the first issue of HCB, it is clear that many things in the industry haven’t changed that much in thirty years. Regular readers will certainly be familiar with some of the major accidents that were being reported on, especially the Mississauga derailment in Canada and the horrific explosion of a road tanker full of propylene in Los Alfaques, Spain, both of which happened in the late 1970s and both of which led to changes in regulations or industry procedures.
More recently, our pages have featured regulatory and procedural changes prompted by other accidents – derailments and rail crashes in Graniteville, DC and Minot, ND, the Buncefield and Texas City explosions, the Sea Empress and Erika tanker incidents, and so on and so, depressingly, on.
We should not, perhaps, be so surprised that accidents still happen – that’s what they do. And many are the result of human error, something that we will never manage to eliminate altogether. Furthermore, the volume of dangerous goods being shipped around the world gets bigger every year. That this has not led to many more accidents is indicative of a general improvement in the safety culture and – perhaps – the effectiveness of regulations and industry standards in preventing incidents.
One thing that has changed over the 30 years of our existence, though, is the extent and complexity of the regulations that govern the transport of dangerous goods. In January 1980 the ICAO Technical Instructions, for instance, had not even been put in place. What this means is that it is ever more difficult for companies to ensure they are in compliance with all the relevant provisions. This is a particularly onerous burden for smaller companies and many sectors that were once the domain of ‘mom and pop’ operators have been subject to rampant consolidation – a process that continues today on a monthly basis.
There has been some chat recently in regulatory circles that this complexity is becoming an issue that needs to be addressed. Unnecessary complexity is a problem not only in promoting compliance but also in terms of achieving the desired training outcomes. Training is undoubtedly the most important element in improving safety levels – one of the reasons why I have been happy to get involved with the new Dangerous Goods Trainers Association – but if those working with dangerous goods cannot understand what they are supposed to be doing then the generation of new rules is rather pointless.
Harmony at last?
Oddly, in the very first issue of HCB, the founding editor, Mike Corkhill, said: “The 1980s could well become known as the Decade of Harmonisation but few are the pundits saying it will take much less than the entire 10 years to achieve.” As it turns out, we know now that his prognosis was out by at least 20 years. In this issue we report on the eventual settlement of many years’ of often heated debate about the modal disharmony in the provisions relating to the transport of dangerous goods in limited quantities (see page 7), but many other examples of disharmony still exist.
For those involved in international or intermodal transport, greater modal and international regulatory harmonisation is obviously a major contributor to reducing complexity in terms of compliance. Much work has been done but the process seems to have stalled now, well short of full harmonisation. There was some groundswell of support for the idea of a global convention on dangerous goods but too many important nations were against the idea of being told what to do. And although the development of ‘model regulations’ by the UN experts was undoubtedly a major step forward, there are particular conditions of transport in certain modes and in certain countries that mean that some variation is necessary.
In January 1980, Mike listed some areas where work was necessary to achieve harmonisation: hazard evaluation, product segregation, product classification, packaging specification and performance tests, and a universal system of units. Some of these have been achieved, if only through the arrival of other sets of provisions such as GHS, but North America remains aloof from the use of SI units and the US package testing system has its critics.
More worryingly, recent developments within US DOT seem to indicate that the country, which is obviously a major component of the international system of regulation, is moving away from its commitment towards greater international harmonisation. Recent proposals relating to the transport of lithium batteries (see page 15) and the incorporation of special permits into the Hazardous Materials Regulations (see page 16) will, if enacted as planned, take the US further away from harmony with the rest of the world. As the rest of the world includes the US's major trading partners, this is not a good thing from the point of view of facilitating international trade.
Over and out
Over the years the magazine has been through several changes of ownership, most recently last June when I bought it from Informa. It has had several homes, always in central London (although we have full-time contributors in the US and Poland, as well as a global network of irregular stringers). It has had a few changes in appearance, although I like to think that its current incarnation fits in well with the series of redesigns.
Other things have changed less. The list of contents covers many of the same topics that were there 30 years ago, for instance. There have only ever been three editors, which is a remarkable record in these times of corporate management. And we still have one contributor, Herbert Kennard (or ‘HJK’) whose name has appeared in the pages since the February 1980 issue.
I am sure that Herbert will not mind me telling readers that he turned 90 in November, nor that he is still going strong and contributing regular pieces on regulatory meetings. Assuming that the magazine lasts another 30 years – and there is no sign of the regulatory process flagging any time soon – and assuming I am still here, I will be in my 80s, which personally I think will be quite enough, but we are not going to be getting rid of Herbert any time soon.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank our readers for sticking with us – and there are still some who have been taking the magazine for 20 years or more – and our advertisers for their support, which is very much appreciated and helps us provide the analysis of regulatory changes that industry needs to help it keep moving goods safely around the world.