Retail “Reverse Logistics” Hazmat Rule Nears Final Stage

Posted on 7/13/2015 by Roger Marks

The US DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is planning a Fall 2015 Final Rule to address hazardous materials in the “reverse logistics” supply chain. “Reverse logistics” applies primarily to the retail industry, where employees face the challenge of shipping defective, damaged, or returned hazmat products—like batteries, pharmaceuticals, or household products—back to the manufacturer or vendor.

To ease the regulatory burden for retail hazmat shippers, PHMSA has proposed certain exceptions to the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) for employees in this industry. According to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, originally posted to the Federal Register in August 2014, “reverse logistics” will be defined in the HMR as “the process of moving goods from their final destination for the purpose of capturing value, recall, replacement, proper disposal, or similar reason.” 

Also in the NPRM is a list of the hazard classes for consumer products PHMSA has proposed to include in the reverse logistics rulemaking: 1.4 (ammunition), 2.1 (flammable gas), 2.2 (non-flammable compressed gas), 3 (flammable liquid), 4.1 (flammable solid), 5.1 (oxidizer), 6.1 (poisonous materials), 8 (corrosive), and 9 (miscellaneous hazmat). 

Retail industry: Hazmat retail reverse logistics supply chain

Hazmat Training Requirements for Retail Employees

Under the HMR, PHMSA requires all “hazmat employees” to complete training once every three years. [49 CFR 172.704(c)] “Hazmat employee” means any employee who performs pre-transport hazmat shipping functions like classifying materials, packaging, marking, labeling, loading, unloading, or filling out shipping papers.

Because retail employees’ primary function is not hazmat shipping, PHMSA proposes relaxed training requirements for the retail sector. According to the proposal, the reverse logistics training requirements will likely include a function-specific element and awareness training on the hazards present in the products these employees will prepare for transport. Training requirements will be further specified in the exception when it is finalized.

Hazmat Packaging for Reverse Logistics

PHMSA received comments on packaging for reverse logistics hazmat shipments from major industry players like UPS, Wal-Mart, and the Association of Hazmat Shippers. After weighing these comments, PHMSA proposes a set of specific packaging standards for reverse logistics shipments. The proposed requirements include using:
  • The original package or a package of equivalent strength/integrity;
  • Inner packagings that are leak-proof for liquids and sift-proof for solids;
  • Outer packaging that contains enough absorbent material to contain a spill of liquids from the inner packaging(s);
  • Cages, carts, and/or bins to secure packages against shifting in transit.
Existing Exception for Lead-Acid Battery Recycling

PHMSA’s proposal also modifies the exception for lead-acid batteries at 49 CFR 173.159(e). Under the current regulations, which include a “single shipper” provision, a battery recycler may only pick up batteries from a single location.

The proposal will remove the “single shipper” provision, allowing for recyclers to pick up and transport batteries from multiple retail entities for the purpose of recycling.

What it Means for Retail Shippers

A unique set of rules for “reverse logistics” will give retail shippers a break from the more burdensome requirements of the US DOT’s hazmat shipping rules. The exception will ensure the safe, compliant transport of returned or damaged hazmat products by retail establishments, while allowing retail employees to focus on their primary, non-hazmat related job responsibilities.

A Final Rule is planned for October 2015. The proposed rulemaking and related documents are filed under RIN 2137-AE81.

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Tags: DOT, hazmat shipping, new rules, reverse logistics

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