Inside Logistics

Pandemic highlights needed changes for DG handlers

Better remote training capabilities, upgraded technology and more effective communication of data seen as top priorities

July 29, 2020

CHICAGO – The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted parts of the dangerous goods (DG) supply chain that could be more robust, according to the results of a new survey.

The poll found the need for better remote training capabilities, upgraded technology and more effective communication of data across the supply chain.

The survey of 258 DG pros from around the world examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their organizations and the changes needed to their DG management operations moving forward.

Conducted between June 1 and June 19, 2020, the survey found that DG organizations experienced a range of challenges as a result of the pandemic – both in keeping goods moving and keeping teams up-to-date and trained on new and existing compliance rules.

The top supply chain management challenges were receiving goods on time (cited by 82 percent), receiving complete and timely information from partners (75 percent) and lack of carrier availability (73 percent).

The top challenges directly related to DG management were re-certification of employees (69 percent), training employees on regulations (68 percent) and changes in rules related to the pandemic (57 percent).

As organizations hurried to respond to rapid, large-scale changes, DG pros were generally pleased with the support received from their organizations, product suppliers and IATA, but not carriers or state authorities. Eighty-eight percent of IATA DGR users said it helped them during the pandemic. A quarter of respondents claimed their state/country’s competent authority was not helpful, and a quarter also said private carriers were not helpful.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the global dangerous goods supply chain,” said Robert Finn, vice-president, at Labelmaster, one of the survey’s sponsors.

“Yet even as the industry has shown tremendous resilience, this crisis has shed light on weaknesses related to DG organizations’ ability to keep shipments safe and compliant, and the need for further investment in DG training, technology and infrastructure.”

Just as the pandemic impacted companies in different ways, the time needed to recover will vary as well. Yet, at the time the survey was conducted, a large number of respondents felt their DG operations would return to some degree of normalcy this year. Almost 20 percent said they were already back to normal. Fifteen percent expected to be there by September, and 20 percent by December. However, 42 percent thought it would take to 2021 and beyond, and four percent believed business would never return to normal.

But working towards a state of normalcy does not necessarily mean business as usual, and will likely result in a “new normal.” Given the supply chain challenges spotlighted during the pandemic, it’s clear to DG pros that their organizations must address gaps—specifically those related to data accuracy and completeness, as well as more effective tools for training team members remotely.

For 88 percent of respondents “accurate and complete DG shipment data” is important to the future of their organization, while 74 percent said that about “more effective remote DG training”.

But getting the resources they need may be a challenge. While a quarter of respondents believe that their companies are likely to spend more on DG management as a result of the pandemic, 59 percent said the investment will stay the same, and seven percent expect it to decrease.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on areas of DG management that must be addressed within many organizations,” Finn said.

“As they look to move forward in the ‘new normal,’ it is important for senior leadership to recognize the critical role that DG management plays in maintaining a smooth, resilient and compliant supply chain, and that it can actually be a competitive advantage that drives revenue, reduces risk and enables better customer service. Then they must invest in the technology, training and infrastructure that DG pros need to manage DG effectively and efficiently.”