With a few exceptions, most violations of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) hazardous materials regulations (HMRs) carry a civil penalty of up to $75,000 per day per violation for knowingly violating one of the HMRs. If the violation results in death, serious illness, or severe injury to any person or substantial destruction of property, the maximum penalty rises to $175,000 per day per violation.
Knowing, willful, or reckless violations of HMRs can result in fines of up to $500,000 and up to 5 years’ imprisonment. If someone dies or is injured as the result of a willful or reckless violation, the potential fine remains $500,000 but the prison term can be up to 10 years.
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One Case: What Went Wrong, the Fines, and the Fixes
PHMSA fined a waste recycling company $120,200 for three violations of the HMRs. The case involves a leak of flammable hazardous waste that eventually resulted in an explosion and an injury to a firefighter.
Note: Since the resolution of this case, the maximum penalties for violations of HMRs have increased.
What went wrong? The first violation did not properly describe the material that was being transported on the shipping paper (a hazardous waste manifest, in this case). The manifest described the waste as a Class 3 waste flammable liquid. As it turned out, the waste also contained sodium hydroxide, a Class 8 corrosive material.
The fine and the fix. The fine for this violation was $7,200. The company has modified its shipping description selection process to eliminate the ability for bulk shipments profiles to have multiple shipping names and multiple hazard classes, thereby assuring that the transporter knows exactly what is in the shipment.
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What went wrong? The second violation was for transporting a corrosive material in an aluminum cargo tank that was not compatible with the material and resulted in the failure of the tank. It turns out that the facility personnel who loaded the tank were not aware of the fact that the tank was made of aluminum. They assumed that all the tanks, which were provided by the transporter, were made of stainless steel.
The fine and the fix. The fine for this violation was $110,000 because a firefighter was injured when responding to the explosion. The company now requires transporters to provide a certified tank wash receipt. Facility personnel inspects tanks and check the specification plate to ensure compatibility with the shipment. Aluminum tanks are no longer used to ship the majority of hazardous materials within the company.
What went wrong? The third violation involved not properly closing drums and containers. This violation was actually observed when a PHMSA inspector inspected the facility itself as part of the explosion investigation. The facility’s tools were not set at the required torques for correctly closing the drums and containers in question.
The fine and the fix. The fine for this violation was $3,000. The company retrained facility personnel on proper closing procedures and purchased new torque wrenches and fittings.