“IT’S VITAL TO PROVIDE REGULAR TRAINING ON DANGEROUS GOODS REGULATIONS.”
Interview with Olaf Müller and Michael Schuhmacher
Düsseldorf Airport is the biggest airport in North Rhine Westphalia and the gateway to the world for the most populous German federal state. 22.5 million passengers pass through the airport every year. They can choose between around 200 scheduled and tourist destinations – intercontinental flights and flights within Europe and within Germany – as well as 70 different airlines. This also means that a large amount of cargo is handled at the airport. In 2015 the volume was 105,300 tonnes, a figure which regularly also includes so-called dangerous goods. In view of the large number of passengers travelling all over the world from Düsseldorf Airport every day or living within the airport’s catchment area, it is vital that dangerous goods should be handled professionally. And this is where the packaging comes in: standard labels and markings on packages ensure that everyone in the supply chain knows how a dangerous goods item should be handled. The provisions for dangerous goods in air transport are laid down in comprehensive regulations, specified by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the most important global association of airlines. The IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations explain the classifications of dangerous goods and their transport conditions, both for passengers’ luggage and cargo.
Olaf Müller and Michael Schuhmacher are highly familiar with these regulations, as they are the dangerous goods officers at Düsseldorf Airport and conduct numerous seminars every year.
During such training sessions anyone who is involved in the air transport chain learns about the correct handling of dangerous goods, whether they are ramp agents, consignors or classifiers.
We talked to the two men about the regulations for different modes of transport and learned how they ensure safety in the shipping of dangerous goods.
1. Mr Müller and Mr Schuhmacher, the packaging of dangerous goods doesn’t just protect the content. It particularly also protects the lives and well-being of people, animals and the environment. This is why you have an important principle whereby safe packaging must be in proportion to the hazardous nature of the content. But what does it mean in practical terms? It means that, wherever possible, the potential risk must be reduced for any dangerous goods that are transported in packaged form. More specifically, it means reducing the volume contained in a given package.
2. To what extent does the type, quality and potential risk of a dangerous goods item affect the choice of the packaging material? What kind of packaging is used for what kind of hazard? Depending on the hazard, some dangerous items are also classified into three packaging groups: I (high risk), II (medium risk) and III (low risk). In each case UN-approved packaging (outer or individual packaging) must be used, matching at least the relevant packaging group. Other hazardous materials – e.g. gases in hazard class 2 – are transported in pressure tanks which must have passed a pressure tank test before being approved for shipping.
3. The global trade in dangerous goods has already reached a substantial scale now, and it keeps increasing. This makes it important to observe international regulations when dealing with them. Are they largely standardised, or do some regulations only apply to certain geographical areas? Not all dangerous goods regulations have been harmonised on a global scale. Depending on the mode of transport – whether it’s road, rail, sea, inland waterways or air – there are differences and restrictions. Air transport has the most restrictive and most sensitive regulations for dangerous goods. In this area, in particular, there are differences between countries and airlines that are much stricter than the regulations applicable to global air transport.
4. Regulations are continually reviewed and developed, based on insights from research and technology. How often do they change? New dangerous goods regulations are published for each mode of transport at two-year intervals, in every odd year. These updates always contain the latest changes and new regulations. Quite often, however, the regulations are overtaken by the development of new hazardous items and materials. Depending on the relevant mode of transport, the transition periods can differ. In air transport, however, transition periods are rather rare, so that new regulations always need to be observed from 1 January in a given year.
5. The point at which regulations become relevant is not just during shipment, but also prior to that, when the packaging is checked. How are those checks conducted, and what exactly is tested? The dangerous goods regulations contain precise details about test procedures. They include drop tests, stacking pressure tests, leak tests and internal hydraulic pressure tests. UN-approved packaging can only be checked by official test facilities and must be certified in the form of test reports. In Germany the body which is often consulted as a test facility is the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (LINK: https://www.bam.de/Navigation/DE/Home/home.html). If a test has been passed, the institution issues a certificate.
6. As Düsseldorf Airport is an important traffic and transport hub where a large number of dangerous goods are shipped every day, you train your colleagues in the safe handling of hazardous materials and their packaging. How come you also offer such seminars to other target groups? And who exactly are they? Before a dangerous goods shipment is approved for air transport, all the relevant persons involved in the preparations must have undergone suitable training. They include shippers, packers, carriers, airlines and ground handling staff. The training always concludes with a final exam, which must be repeated within 24 months, to ensure that their knowledge is up to date. Acting as training organisers, Düsseldorf Airport offers appropriate training in each of the twelve staff categories – a service it has provided for over 20 years. However, our training courses also include training on dangerous goods transport by road and by sea as well as on air security.
7. Why is it necessary and indeed a requirement for in-house and external staff to be well prepared from the very beginning and for such training to be repeated at regular intervals? The training obligation is specified in the dangerous goods regulations for each mode of transport. Regular repetitions of such courses are indispensable to ensure awareness among the workforce. Otherwise they would almost never have access to new regulations or changes, and neither would they be aware of them. Experience has shown that unless a person works regularly with dangerous goods regulations, they quickly forget some of the points.
8. Packaging must provide protection from dangerous goods not only along the entire transport chain, but also when it is opened by the recipient. How exactly can packaging provide safety at that point? Inner or individual packaging must be correctly sealed and contain advice on safe handling in compliance with the German Hazardous Substances Act.
9. How important is it for this purpose that the labelling on the packaging indicates straight away what kind of hazard there is? Hazardous goods labels must be present on each packaging item and must show what kind of hazardous items it contains. This is the only way to comply with regulations on shipping, storage and separation. Such labelling is also important for emergency response staff, such as firefighters and police.
10. What differences are there between the carriage of dangerous goods by rail, air and road? Do the labelling regulations differ? And if so, how and why? The dangerous goods regulations of the various modes of transport have in many cases been harmonised. In each mode of transport there are differences between the permitted volumes per package, and not every substance can be conveyed under each mode of transport. The shipping of dangerous goods in air transport differs with regard to markings and labelling requirements. Regulations also differ concerning the positions of labels. In air transport there is a requirement that, wherever possible, all the details must be displayed on the side of a package.
11. From explosives to radioactive substances: Why can certain substances only be transported along specified routes, and why are they subject to more stringent volume restrictions and higher technical requirements when they are shipped, for instance, by air? In road transport, certain substances can only be taken along certain routes and are subject to tunnel codes. In air transport, on the other hand, we need to pay attention to differences between national requirements and airlines. The packaging, too, needs to meet special transport requirements in air transport. This includes major temperature differences, differences in pressure on the ground and in the air and also vibrations.