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When Is Loading and Unloading Hazmat Regulated?

Posted on 7/19/2016 by Noah Polsky

What is transportation? To the general public, it typically means movement from one place to another. While that description is good enough for the average Joe, hazardous materials shippers know better. When it comes to hazmat shipping rules, dictionary definitions often bear little resemblance to what’s in the 49 CFR regulations.

Not surprisingly, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) definition of “transportation” is more expansive than Merriam Webster’s. DOT defines transportation as: “…the movement of property and loading, unloading, or storage incidental to that movement [49CFR 171.8]” (emphasis ours).

As we can see, in the context of 49 CFR hazmat rules, “transportation” means more than just physical movement. Because loading and unloading hazmat is regulated by DOT, loading dock workers who load trucks, tank cars, and more may be considered “hazmat employees.” This is a crucial distinction, as all “hazmat employees” must receive hazmat training per 49 CFR 172.704.

The Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR) apply to the movement of hazmat in commerce by ground, air, vessel, and rail. [49 CFR 171.1] 49CFR 171.1(c)(2)–(3) describes various loading and unloading activities as “incidental to movement.” These activities trigger the application of the HMR, even when there is no actual movement occurring. In other words, loading or unloading hazardous materials onto or off a transport vehicle—before or after transportation (i.e., movement)—does fall under the HMR’s jurisdiction.

loading hazardous materials on truck for transport

When Is Loading Hazmat Subject to the HMR?

To know whether your loading dock workers are subject to hazmat training and other HMR requirements, you must know if the act of loading or unloading are “incidental to movement.” The key phrase to make this determination is found in the 49 CFR rules. Loading and unloading are incidental to transportation, according to US DOT, “…when performed by carrier personnel or in the presence of carrier personnel.” [49 CFR 171.1(2)] This is the important part. It means that if loading dock workers are loading or unloading in the presence of the carrier, it is considered incidental to movement. Therefore, they are hazmat employees and must receive hazmat training.

However, when loading or unloading hazardous materials while the carrier is not present, these activities are not considered incidental to movement, and the workers are not considered hazmat employees (unless performing another pre-transport job function covered under the HMR, like classifying, packaging, marking, labeling, or filling out shipping papers).

Hazmat Loading Dock Scenarios

Example 1: A truck full of drums of hazmat arrives at its destination. While the driver is still on site, loading dock workers begin unloading the drums off the truck. Because it’s done in the presence of the carrier, this work is considered unloading incidental to movement. Unloading in this way falls within the definition of transportation, which makes the workers hazmat employees.

Example 2: The same truck arrives at the facility, but this time the driver detaches the cab from the freight container and leaves before the unloading takes place. In this example, transportation ends when the carrier leaves. Now the loading dock workers are, practically speaking, just moving materials around the facility. While this job may be regulated under OSHA safety rules, it is not incidental to transportation in this case, so the workers are not hazmat employees.

It may seem like an arbitrary difference, but that’s often how regulations work—a slight discrepancy in wording or action could mean the difference between the requirement to follow certain rules. All that said, it’s crucial to consider all the functions these employees perform in order to determine if they are hazmat employees.

Effective Training for All Hazmat Employees

Make sure all your employees covered under DOT’s hazmat training rules at 49 CFR 172.704 have the knowledge and confidence to keep your operations in compliance. With convenient, 24/7 online courses designed for specific job functions, Lion.com offers targeted training—like the Hazmat Loading Dock Worker Online Course—that gets employees up to speed with what they need to know and gets them certified and back to work fast. For consistent, effective training across your shipping team, check out Lion.com/Group-Training now.

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