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Hazard Labels and Placards: The cheapest element of a Dangerous Goods shipment - or the most costly?

Hazard Labels and Placards: The cheapest element of a Dangerous Goods shipment - or the most costly?

Richard Shreeve, Compliance Manager at Labeline International, highlights the potential costs of using sub-standard labelling

Hazard labels and handling marks are designed to minimise the risk posed by dangerous goods. They give information about the products to those who are handling and transporting them and, should an incident occur, the labels help emergency responders to rapidly determine the best corrective action to take.

It is logical, therefore, that there are standard parameters for the specification, quality and properties of labels and marks included in the dangerous goods regulations for each mode of transport, namely ADR (road), RID (rail), IATA DGR/ICAO TI (air) and IMDG Code (sea).

Properties of Labels

The international regulations state that “All labels shall be able to withstand open weather exposure without a substantial reduction in effectiveness.” Similar text applies for identification and handling marks, such as OVERPACK, SALVAGE, address labels, UN number, Proper Shipping Name etc. In ADR and RID, the properties of vehicle placards are also specified: “The material used shall be weather-resistant and ensure durable marking.”

Understandably, the IMDG Code is more demanding: “The method of affixing the label(s) or applying stencil(s) of label(s) on packages containing dangerous goods shall be such that the label(s) or stencil(s) will still be identifiable on packages surviving at least three months’ immersion in the sea. In considering suitable labelling methods, account shall be taken of the durability of the packaging materials used and the surface of the package.”

The requirement to withstand three month’s immersion in the sea is repeated in the IMDG Code to cover marks on packaged goods as well as placards and marks on cargo transport units.

One way of ensuring that your labels and marks are likely to comply with the above requirements is to make sure that they are certified to BS5609. This is a globally recognised specification to test printed labels for their adhesive properties and resistance to abrasion and sunlight. Labels are tested offshore, usually on aluminium plates, to the requirements of the IMDG Code. Of course, to get the maximum adhesion, it is important that labels are applied to a clean, dry and suitable substrate. Applying labels to an extremely cold surface can also affect their adhesive properties. 

Labeline’s labels are BS5609 compliant. However, we are fortunate to be situated on the banks of a coastal estuary in Devon and this gives us the opportunity to go one further and test our labels on a variety of substrates. We hang the articles into the estuary, where they are dragged through the sand in a strong tidal environment and exposed to all weathers. 

Labels are also applied to a designated south-facing wall to test for UV deterioration. We have purchased and tested other suppliers’ products too and found it quite concerning that some will even wash away from the surface after just a couple of minutes sitting in a bucket of water!

Hazard Label Specification

Hazard labels for packaged goods transported by all modes have specified dimensions and rules that determine their appearance. Procurement departments are not always aware of the regulations and would not necessarily know to specify label requirements. To the trained eye, an online search for images of hazard labels for sale will quickly bring up a plethora of cheap labels with non-compliant or out-of-date designs. 

Snagged Shipments

Usually, the biggest costs of the delay from a consignment being held, for whatever reason, are:

  • Damage to the shipper’s reputation from delays when shipments have missed vessels or aircraft.
  • Inconvenience of having to rectify the problem. 
  • Customer dissatisfaction.
  • Charges incurred for non-compliance. Many forwarders will replace incorrect or damaged labels on behalf of their client – but they will usually charge a princely sum for this service.

The container had to be isolated at the dockside and new placards applied. All these costs, and more, were charged to the client, adding up to nearly £400. 

From a safety angle, this incident illustrates why the rules exist. If the placards had come off en route and the vehicle was involved in an accident, there would be no obvious identification of the hazardous nature of the chemicals in the container. Furthermore, the person opening the container at its destination may not have realised that it contained dangerous goods.

On a smaller scale, Labeline was recently notified of a package containing dangerous goods which had a home-made paper hazard label stuck on it with transparent adhesive tape. It was also the wrong size and the company concerned was very lucky that the forwarder picked up on this and not the regulators. The forwarder, quite rightly, charged the shipper a significant sum to replace the labels, but the costs were far less than they could have been. The shipment was destined to go by air to the USA, where there are fixed fines in excess of $1,000 for incorrect labelling and marking. Should there be an incident involving an mis-declared product, the penalties are unlimited. In this flagrant breach of the regulations, the person consigning the goods had either not been trained properly or forgot / ignored what they’d learned. 

In the UK, Police Forces up and down the country have been increasing the number of officers who are qualified DGSA’s (Dangerous Goods Safety Advisers) to facilitate better policing of the Carriage of Dangerous Goods Regulations. These officers, together with the DVSA, DfT, HSE and others form the CDG Practitioners Forum which meets twice a year to share knowledge and co-ordinate activities, such as road-side checks.

As a company, Labeline supports professional associations like the CDGPF and attends events to help spread the message about the safe transport of dangerous goods. We have exhibited at a number of these in 2023, including ChemUK, and we are pleased to be back at Multimodal this year.

As a global leader in compliance for dangerous goods, Labeline has a strong presence in USA and is a Platinum Sponsor of COSTHA (Council on Safe Transportation of Hazardous Articles) which is an international organisation which is represented at the UN Sub-Committee of Experts on the Transportation of Dangerous Goods. 

We were back exhibiting at their annual Expo and Forum in Dallas again this May where we met many of our customers and industry colleagues. 

For the last 14 years, Labeline has been IATA’s leading international distributor of their Dangerous Goods Regulations and our MD, Keith Kingham, was presented with a certificate by IATA at the COSTHA event in recognition of the company’s achievement.

2023 Road and Rail Regulations become mandatory from 1st July!

Every two years, updated regulations for the transport of dangerous goods are published for all modes. Whilst the regulations for air take effect immediately (on 1st January), ADR, RID and the IMDG Code have transitional measures to allow time to comply. For IMDG this is a full year. However, for ADR and RID, dangerous goods may be carried in accordance with the 2021 requirements until 30th June 2023. Therefore, operators must comply with the 2023 regulations from 1st July.

On the Labeline website, there is a range of offers on the ADR manuals, including the easy-to-use spiral bound version. RID comes as a single book with the option to download it in a digital format. All come with our bespoke index tabs.

Labeline also produces a guide for organisations that wish to maximise the benefits of the Limited and Excepted Quantity exemptions. The 6th Edition (for ADR 2023) has been published.

About Labeline

For over 30 years, Labeline International has been at the forefront of dangerous goods compliance, supplying publications, labels, documentation, software, training and consultancy services – the one stop service to the dangerous goods industry.

Globally, Labeline is probably the leading authorised distributor for the regulations covering the transport of dangerous goods by all modes. 

Labeline, for all your Dangerous Goods compliance needs:

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