When Department of Transportation (DOT) roadside inspectors stop your hazardous materials (hazmat) truck, they are going to check your cargo tank to make sure that the manual remote shutoff device is marked correctly—a requirement that has popped up in top violations of hazmat regulations for 3 years now. Why is this requirement being violated more often in recent years?
DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) data show that for fiscal year (FY) 2016 through FY 2017, roadside inspectors are regularly finding that shutoff devices are not marked properly when stopping trucks for inspections. FY 2018 (which began October 1, 2017) is proving not to be an exception. As a matter of fact, so far in FY 2018, this violation ranks 14th in the list of violations uncovered by DOT roadside inspectors. It ranked 17th in 2016 and 16th in 2017. It’s creeping up there as a violation, so you can be sure that roadside inspectors will be looking carefully at the markings on your cargo tank.
What’s a Cargo Tank?
First, let’s review what DOT means by a cargo tank. It’s basically a bulk packaging that:
- Is a tank intended primarily for the carriage of liquids or gases and includes appurtenances, reinforcements, fittings, and closures;
- Is permanently attached to or forms a part of a motor vehicle, or is not permanently attached to a motor vehicle but which, by reason of its size, construction, or attachment to a motor vehicle is loaded or unloaded without being removed from the motor vehicle; and
- Is not fabricated under a specification for cylinders, intermediate bulk containers, multiunit tank car tanks, portable tanks, or tank cars.
Emergency Shutoff Marking
In response to a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board, since October 2005, all manually activated on-truck remote shutoff devices for closure of the internal valve are required to be marked “Emergency Shutoff.” The letters must be at least 0.75 inches (in.) in height and in a color that contrasts with its background.
In addition, and here’s where some confusion comes in, the emergency shutoff marking must be located in an area immediately adjacent to the means of closure. Let’s take a look at some guidance from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) concerning this requirement.
What if PHMSA Disagrees with the Inspector?
A company received a violation for the emergency shutoff marking not being close enough to the emergency closure device. The marking was approximately 4 in. right of and 12 in. above the device. The company contacted PHMSA to ask how close the emergency shutoff marking must be to the emergency closure device in order to meet the requirements found at 49 CFR 172.328(d). The company attached a photo to show where the marking was located.
The PHMSA official who answered the query apparently disagreed with the DOT roadside inspector. He said that 49 CFR 172.328(d) does not specify the distance the emergency shutoff marking must be in order to be immediately adjacent to the emergency closure device. However, based on the description the company provided and the photo, the PHMSA officials said that the emergency shutoff marking, as pictured, would be considered adjacent to the emergency closure device.
Takeaway: Protest and Contest
PHMSA’s hazardous materials regulations (HMRs) are not always crystal clear. And, as we see from this case, there can be disagreement among PHMSA officials themselves. So, if you think you received a faulty citation from a roadside inspector, don’t hesitate to contest it. Contact PHMSA’s Office of the Chief Counsel, and request a hearing.
Begin by addressing the DOT official who issued the notice. Be prepared to:
- Give the name and address of the respondent and of the person submitting the request if different from the respondent;
- State which allegations of violations, if any, are admitted; and
- State generally the issues to be raised at the hearing. Note that issues not raised in the request are not barred from being presented at the hearing.