Nearly Unnoticed New PHMSA Final Rule Brings Big Changes: What You Need to Know

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) quietly issued a final rule on June 2, 2016, titled “Hazardous Materials: Miscellaneous Amendments,” which  amends its Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR). The implications are far reaching, affecting many PHMSA regulations, as well the shipping processes and chemical management tasks for various groups involved in the manufacture, distribution or use of governed shipments and chemicals. These substantial changes go into effect in just a few weeks, on July 5, 2016.

PHMSA maintains that the changes to the HMR will improve safety and help establish consistency and compliance with international regulations.

What’s Changed

At a high level, the two major changes are to emergency phone numbers provided by shippers and packing group (PG) designations given to organic peroxides (Division 5.2), self-reactive substances (Division 4.1) and explosives (Class I).

Alphanumeric Emergency Contact Numbers

In a previous letter of interpretation, the PHSMA indicated that alphanumeric telephone numbers, which are written out using the letters on the telephone dialpad that correspond to the numeric digits, are acceptable as emergency contact numbers. This format of a phone number is not as common as it used to be, but lingers on because it was once more widely used, as a way to make a number memorable through incorporation of key words, such as the supplier’s name.

But what works well for marketing purposes doesn’t always work as well in an emergency. The DGAC rightly pointed out than in the event of a spill or medical emergency, every second counts, and you don’t want someone wasting even one of those seconds figuring out how to translate a phone number written in letters into numbers to dial on a phone. This can cause delays during the time you can least afford to have them.

The new rule addresses this, requiring shippers to only use numerals in emergency contact phone numbers on shipping papers.

Packing Group Designations

The DGAC called attention to the fact although neither the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) nor international regulations provide a framework for determining a packing group assignment for organic peroxides, self-reactive substances or explosives, Column 5 of the Hazardous Materials Table (HMT) assigns these materials by default to PGII. The HMT makes this assignment despite the fact that 49 CFR 172.202(a)(4) exempts these materials from the requirement to provide a packing group as part of the description. Since DOT requires the packing group to be included on shipping papers, shippers often include the default PGII assignment from the HMT on the paperwork. Confusion then occurs when someone in the transport chain rightfully questions the basis for the PGII designation. This practice not only causes delayed and refused shipments, especially for international shipments, but also may pose safety concerns by misrepresenting the actual hazards of the materials. As DGAC pointed out, indicating a PG that has not been appropriately determined is also a violation of international law!

The general consensus reached during PHMSA’s discussion with industry representatives was that removing the blanket assignment of PGII from these materials would result in a net improvement in safety, as well as a reduction in delayed shipments and associated economic costs, and would help bring domestic shipping practices into alignment with international regulations for international transportation. Therefore, in the new final rule, the HMT will no longer assign a default PG designation to these three classes of materials.

How Does This Affect You?

Alphanumeric Emergency Number

If you are a supplier or manufacturer of a chemical and you author SDSs that currently use alphanumeric phone numbers, this rule may affect you. While SDSs are regulated by OSHA, this new rule may cause a ripple effect that eventually pressures those manufacturers of chemicals who still use alphanumeric emergency contact numbers to update their SDSs. This seems likely to happen as parties who must comply with the rule when offering materials for shipment begin to request SDSs that have the same contact numbers, in the same format, as the ones they use when shipping.

Packing Group II (PGII)

Shippers of materials will need to stop assigning the three hazard classes of organic peroxides, self-reactive substances, and explosives to PGII as of July 5, 2016. They may also need to revise any DOT labels or order entry systems to prevent the automatic assignment from being made.

Manufacturers of materials, who include shipping information in Section 14 of the SDSs for their products should be prepared to either choose to no longer complete this section or to meet the new requirements. While the contents in Section 14 of the SDS can be included on a voluntary basis, if included, the information must be accurate. Having incorrect information that doesn't meet the new PSHMA guidelines may potentially expose the manufacturer who authored the SDS to liability for any downstream compliance issues. Information that is included in this section should therefore reflect the changes resulting from the new rule, since the DOT now clearly considers the PGII designation to be inappropriate for these materials.

If downstream users experience shipping delays as a result of erroneous details in Section 14, especially during early implementation of the rule, they’ll likely be calling manufacturers for support. So manufacturers may need to prioritize revising this section of their SDSs for these materials as soon as possible.

End users of materials may also be impacted. Given that manufacturers of these materials may be revising their SDSs, for reasons we’ve just reviewed, be prepared to see newer versions rolling in and to retain and incorporate them into your SDS library.

Let VelocityEHS Help!

If you need assistance with authoring new SDSs for your products with numerically formatted emergency contact numbers in Section 1 or revised transportation information in Section 14, VelocityEHS can help.

Contact us at 1.888.362.2007 to learn how our SDS authoring experts can get you started. If you are an end-user, learn how our cost-effective cloud-based chemical management solutions can help you with the obtainment and management of SDS documents from suppliers. Our authoring experts, user-friendly systems and dedicated customer support staff will ensure you are well-prepared for the new rule.

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