Railroads are responsible for transporting many hazardous materials and provide the safest method for land-based transport. However, training and safety protocols are still critical to avoid potentially costly and dangerous situations.
From hazmat railroad crossing rules to labeling and training, every element of hazmat safety is designed to protect railroad workers and the community at large. Any organization active in hazmat transportation must understand the associated regulations to maintain compliance and take a proactive stance on railroad safety.
What Is the Core Focus for Railroad Hazmat Safety?
Transporting hazardous materials by rail is essential to everyday life. Rail is considered the safest method of hazmat transportation over land, and railroads must safely transport the freight in their possession under a common carrier obligation.
Freight railroads are constantly seeking new methods to maintain and improve their hazmat transportation. They focus on three core areas, including the following:
- Prevention: Taking measures to stop accidents before they happen.
- Mitigation: Reducing the consequences of any accidents.
- Emergency response: Providing training and other resources to first responders in the event of an incident and collaborating with authorities and first response teams to carry out emergency response plans and hazmat remediation.
Railroad Hazmat Regulations
Railroad hazmat regulations are governed by two main bodies — the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Having an overview of these regulations is essential to any employee or business owner operating with hazardous materials.
The FRA 49 CFR Regulations
These hazardous materials regulations (HMRs) are designed for organizations that transport and package hazardous materials. They cover a range of hazmat transportation rules, including the following:
- Categorizing hazardous materials: This ensures all hazardous materials and mixtures are covered in the hazardous materials table and outlines the necessary communications and emergency response information required.
- Outlining training requirements: Hazmat employees must receive specific training, which includes general awareness or familiarization training, function-specific training, safety and emergency response training, and more.
- Providing general requirements for shipments and packaging: This includes regulating the preparation of hazardous materials for shipment and inspecting, testing, and retesting containers.
- Managing rail shipment of hazardous materials: This involves detailing what materials can be transported by rail, listing forbidden materials and appropriate packaging, and handling hazardous materials.
- Describing specifications for tank cars: This includes a quality assurance program, general design requirements for tank cars, and repairs and maintenance specifications.
The regulations for hazmat transportation are detailed and complex, and all employees should have a thorough understanding of the relevant requirements to avoid accidents, maintain compliance and avoid civil penalties.
Hazardous Materials Information
Hazardous materials compliance is vital to keep railroads and their surroundings safe while transporting chemicals and other substances. The FRA has issued a compliance manual, so commercial enterprises can ensure they meet the safety criteria. The FRA also provides guidance on all hazmat protocols, including emergency orders, hazmat railroad crossing, transporting radioactive waste, operating heavy tank cars and safety advisories.
The PHMSA regulates many of the emergency response protocols involved in transporting hazardous materials. They ensure the training and preparedness of first responders and employees tasked with hazmat transportation.
In some cases, paperwork is required for railroad transportation. Organizations transporting hazardous materials are issued special permits and approvals from this organization, as the process ensures standardization of safety levels. In addition, organizations transporting specific types and quantities of hazardous materials must file an annual registration statement with the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Multi-Faceted Rail Tank Car Oversight Systems
Hazmat transportation is only as safe as the tank cars on the railway lines. As a result, tank car oversight systems are multifaceted and comprehensive. As any unforeseen incidents can have far-reaching consequences, employees must understand these systems to actively participate in hazmat railroad safety.
This proactive approach to safety includes the following elements:
- Rigorous inspection and operating requirements: Railroads comply with federal and industry regulations to ensure safe operations. These procedures cover training, inspections, operating locomotives and rail yard operations.
- Specialized equipment and operational modifications: Tank car standards have become increasingly stringent for specific types of hazardous materials. The Rail Corridor Risk Management System — a joint initiative from the federal government and the railroad industry — analyzes and identifies the most secure routes for hazmat transportation.
- Response teams: Railroads have response teams, including hazmat response contractors and environmental consultants, on call 24/7 to assist local officials in incidents.
- First responder training: To maintain community safety, railroads work with government and industry partners to train emergency response teams and collaborate with local officials to implement emergency response plans.
- Transparent communications: Railroads take an active role in liaising with local officials to create emergency response plans. Railroads can also share information on the cargo moving through their area on request.
- Tech-enabled inspections: Using the latest technology, railroads conduct routine inspections on track components, equipment and bridges to identify safety concerns and schedule preventive maintenance.
Proper Labeling of Hazmat
One of the cornerstones of safe hazmat transportation is correct labeling. Railroad transportation labeling must adhere to recognized regulatory guidelines set by bodies such as the DOT and the Association of American Railroads (AAR). Labeling requirements are comprehensive, but some important considerations include the following:
- Regulatory guidelines: The DOT provides an extensive labeling framework, including the positioning, design and information displayed on hazmat labels.
- Label types: Hazmat labels must be diamond-shaped and affixed to both sides of railcars. They indicate the primary hazard of the materials, such as toxic gases or flammable liquids.
- Placard placements: The AAR provides instructions on the design and placement of placards. They must be durable, weather-resistant and affixed securely on both sides and ends of the railcar.
- Emergency response contact information: AAR guidelines also require railcars to display an emergency response telephone number. In the event of an emergency, there’s immediate access to emergency response information so the authorities can respond quickly.
Although the above points provide a general guideline, there are variations in labeling requirements based on the materials and circumstances of transportation. All employees working with hazardous materials must know and understand the relevant labeling regulations.
Railroad Hazmat Training
Human error is a significant factor in hazmat transportation accidents, and hazmat training is a legal requirement for all hazmat employees. The HMRs consist of several training regulations, and hazmat employers are responsible for training, testing and certifying their workers. In addition, employers are required to develop and retain training records.
Employers must ensure their employees’ complete training within 90 days of starting a new position or changing job functions. Retraining should occur at least once every three years. General hazmat training should include the following:
- General awareness/familiarization: Employees must be able to identify and recognize hazardous materials in line with hazard communication standards.
- Function-specific training: Employees must receive further training specific to their function.
- Safety training: Training must also consist of emergency response information and measures for employees to protect themselves from exposure to hazardous materials in the workplace, including organization-specific measures implemented by their employer.
- Security awareness: Employers must train employees to have an awareness of the security risks associated with hazmat transportation and methods to elevate transportation security. Employees must also be trained to recognize and respond to threats.
- In-depth security awareness: Employers are required to have a security plan in place to deal with hazmat transportation. Their employees must be trained on the plan so they have a thorough understanding of the specific security procedures, duties and structures of the organization.
Choose Hazmat School for Your Hazardous Materials Safety Training
Following the correct protocols for transporting hazardous materials is essential for safety and compliance. All hazmat industry employees must receive thorough training to identify and respond to potential hazards and keep themselves and the community safe. Professionals in the hazmat industry can rely on Hazmat School to provide quality, comprehensive learning experiences, preparing you for safe hazmat transportation and emergency protocols.
Our wide selection of training courses meets DOT standards and can help you gain the necessary certifications and recertifications. Work at your own pace and stay regulation-compliant with our DOT Shipping Training Course, DOT IATA Multimodal Hazmat Shipping course and many more.
Contact us today, and let us guide you through choosing the best certification course for your needs.