The risks associated with hazardous materials require the application of safety precautions during their transport, use, storage and disposal. Most countries regulate hazardous materials by law, and they are subject to several international treaties as well.
Dangerous goods or hazardous goods are solids, liquids, or gases that can harm people, other living organisms, property, or the environment. They are often subject to chemical regulations. In the United States, United Kingdom and sometimes in Canada, dangerous goods are more commonly known as hazardous materials (abbreviated as HAZMAT), and they are regulated by the International Maritime Organisation Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code renewable every two years.
Popular items that are categorized as dangerous goods include; Lithium batteries, acids, blood samples, nitroglycerin/dynamite explosives, ammunition, rocket propellant, display fireworks, flammable gas, flammable liquids, poisonous gas, etc., however, other household items like perfumes, insecticides, solvent paints, are also dangerous goods.
In the United States of America (USA) over 3600 materials are classified as dangerous goods and the nation’s Code of Federal Regulations has 163333 pages in 226 individual volumes showing the emphasis on the handling of such dangerous goods.
On May 11, 1996, a ValuJet Airplane, Flight 592 crashed into the Everglades about 11 minutes after taking off from Miami as a result of a fire in the cargo compartment caused by improperly stored cargo. All 110 people on board perished because a cargo loader had placed boxes of expired chemical oxygen generators in the cargo compartment in contravention of FAA regulations forbidding the transport of hazardous materials in aircraft cargo holds. Failure to cover the generators’ firing pins with the prescribed plastic caps made an accidental activation much more likely.
In Nigeria, the handling of dangerous goods is yet to get the requisite attention from the government through the relevant agencies, while the private sector has made modest efforts to train their staff in handling such goods, especially in the oil and gas sector.
However, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) found it worthy to train some of its workforce on a 2-day seminar on the “Carriage of Dangerous Goods” facilitated by Kings Communications Limited in collaboration with Sydney Gateway Limited as part of the agency’s in-house training to enhance the capacity of its staff.
One of the resource persons at the training, Mr. Dickson Unogu said that the seminar was born out of the need to understand the important role of handling of dangerous goods which he noted had become ‘a global phenomenon’.
Mr. Unogu, who is also the Vice Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), Delta State Branch, said handling dangerous goods is something that developed countries ensure their shipping lines and all those involved in the handling of such goods are trained. Aside the Council, other government agencies such as the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) also have significant roles to play.
“NIMASA ought to be in the fore-front of this awareness because they regulate safety and register vessels in the country. It should be NIMASA’s onus to ensure that the carriage of dangerous goods via sea is in line with the global standards set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). It is important because Nigeria is a signatory to this IMO regulation. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should also be keen on the issue of carriage of dangerous goods by air and SON should ensure that dangerous goods are properly packaged before they are exported” He said.
Meanwhile, another resource person at the training, Mr. Alban Igwe noted that the world was in an era where the safety of the goods within and outside any country is important.
According to Alban Igwe, “the handing of dangerous goods should be prioritized because it could lead to a situation where a whole country is blown up either negligently or deliberately. People need to be aware of the dangerous goods and how to mitigate the risk they pose. These goods are necessary requirements as some of them are inputs into production.
“One has to be aware of these items and understand how best to manage them. This responsibility falls on the government agencies like Nigerian Shippers Council interfacing with shippers as well as the freight forwarders who represent the shippers in some cases.”
Mr. Alban, who is also the Deputy National President of CILT, Nigeria, said that dangerous goods regime is comprehensive as it contains the items and the degree of danger they pose at each stage in the logistics chain.
“We have to begin with managing the specified dangerous goods that is already known as the degree of danger they pose is also given. If we can achieve this, we are on course to effectively control these goods. Everybody should be aware of the peril that dangerous goods pose to the government, citizens, the people handling it and the equipment. The effects of the goods can be very devastating when those handling the goods aren’t well informed. The most critical thing is capacity building; people should build capacity to respond and manage the handling of dangerous goods. Inter- agency collaboration would also be required.” He added.
The training panned out to be timely and impactful as one of the participants, Mr. Adesola Olumuyiwa told MMS Plus after the first session of Day 1, that he had been immensely informed about dangerous goods by the training.
“I work in the Inland Transport Service department of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council. Before now, I heard about dangerous goods but I wasn’t aware of the enormous risk it poses to lives and properties on-board vessels, aircrafts, or land modes of transportation. This training has enlightened me on the steps that need to be taken on strict adherence to the regulations with regards to the IMO regulations.”
“The programme has been an eye-opener because most of the goods we use in our homes are actually classified as dangerous goods but we pay little attention to how dangerous they can be, especially when they are not properly handled as they transit via the logistics chain. This programme has been impactful and it highlights the need for training in any organization.”
Mr. Adesola’s point on the place of training in an organization was portrayed during the training as the Executive Secretary of NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello walked into the training room and sat behind listening attentively for almost an hour before leaving.
On his part, the Training Manager of the NSC, Mr. Ibrahim Yunusa said the programme on the carriage of dangerous goods via the different modes of transportation came at the right time because the Council is responsible for ensuring optimal logistics performance across the various transport modes.
“It is very important for the Council to be able to train the staff on several important aspects that affect shipping and transportation in general. Hence, I want to commend the efforts of the Executive Secretary, Mr. Hassan Bello for his unflinching support. This shows that he is someone who understands the vital role of training in ensuring that there is continuous improvement in the capacity of workforce in the Council.” Mr. Yunusa said.
Dangerous goods exist in almost all businesses, big and small. Most workplaces, offices and industries use and store a variety of chemicals. Some of these goods can explode or burst into flame. They can be poisonous, corrosive or have the capacity for sudden decomposition. Many common chemicals found in thousands of businesses look harmless, but if you don’t understand the risks and store them incorrectly, add heat, moisture or mix them together; they can become deadly.
Government agencies and the organized private sector groups should do more to enlighten Nigerians on the perils of these dangerous goods and how best to handle them; how to identify these goods from the placards, where they should be kept and where not to, etc.