Learning Curve: Hazardous materials

by Tracy Clayson
Tracy Clayson is director of client development of
In Transit / CPC Logistics Canada. t.clayson@callcpccanada.com

It may sound melodramatic or even alarmist, but there’s no denying we live in a dangerous world. There are potential hazards everywhere. The dangers can be natural, such as lightning from a thunderstorm, or man made, such as car crashes caused by human error.

But humans have developed ways to keep themselves and their loved ones safe in the world. We take precautions, cut down on unnecessary risks and try our best to control situations. We align and surround ourselves with people we trust. We try to hold others to the same standard we set for ourselves. Many of us collaborate in an effort to ensure the whole community is well taken care of.

Follow the example
The way humans have adapted to living in an inherently dangerous world is the way a 4PL should also practice the proper warehousing of hazardous materials.

The good news is that a warehouse does not have to be as unpredictable as the outside world, even if you are storing chemicals that could damage the environment or seriously injure people. A warehouse is self-contained, with staff and management team members, machinery, tools, and equipment.
Everyone working in a warehouse can be kept safe, every item or piece of equipment can be accounted for and used properly, and each and every procedure can be defined, refined and improved upon.

That is the basic approach to take. You need to prioritize safety, operational controls and regulatory compliance. This sounds simple, and conceptually it is, but it involves a lot of documentation, communication and cooperation. It also requires determination and resilience.

A good safety culture comes when you get buy-in from everyone working in the warehouse. Everyone must commit to safe practices and regular and intensive safety training. Further, staff must be willing to recognize and document their errors or near misses and to check them against industry standards by participating in regular safety audits.

“And you will get audited,” says Neil Telfer, the director of distribution operations at our company. “Rather than being unpleasantly surprised, and negatively impacted by the results of an external audit, why not find out what strategies or procedures you are failing to execute well by doing your own internal audits?”

Detailed safety management
Telfer adds that to ensure good operational control you need a detailed safety management system with comprehensive operating procedures tied tightly into your internal audit program. The procedures must outline expectations, but they must also go deeper. A bad input can lead to a bad output. If Frank doesn’t properly tighten a screw, something is in danger of opening unexpectedly down the line when Jane gets to it.

And then there’s regulatory compliance, which includes the legislative safety requirements your organization must meet, such as OH&S, WHMIS, the Labour Code, and national and provincial fire codes. It can also include voluntary compliance to an ISO 9000 or 14000 system, or compliance with specific industry guidelines.

Beyond these three main areas lies a wealth of other great resources. One is the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC), which offers many services, including its Responsible Care Program. The CIAC offers extensive information, expertise and support to help companies make sure staff and management are well aware of the challenges they face as keepers of hazardous materials.

Open communication
Communicating internally definitely helps encourage successful approaches to the warehousing of hazardous materials. Smart companies go a step further, by opening lines of communication outward to the community – not because they have to, but because it can provide mutual benefits.

This can take the form of meetings with local residents or groups for discussions about anything the community wishes to discuss. Some companies invite local fire services in, to get on the same page on warehouse safety and to decide on collaborative solutions. This way, if something unexpected happens, the relationship, and some trust, will have already been established.

So, if you are a global 4PL service provider looking to warehouse hazardous material, you now have some of the high-level knowledge you’ll need to begin. If you’d rather partner with someone, you can hire a firm specialized in full-service chemical product warehousing and staffing as well.

Proper warehousing of dangerous goods requires a complete commitment to safety, as well as excellent operational controls and thorough regulatory compliance. If you meet or exceed these best practices you will be making everybody’s world just that little bit safer.