by Pride Transport | Mar 18, 2020
Truck drivers have a pretty dangerous job as it is. With people in cars sharing the highways with them who don’t understand that a truck cannot stop on a dime the way a car can and that a truck is unable to maneuver the same way as a car, truck drivers face dangers every single day. But, the day to day dangers can sometimes become heightened if the driver is hauling hazardous materials.
What does it take to be a driver who hauls hazardous materials? How dangerous is it? And, is it worth the risk? Let’s delve in and see if we can answer some of those questions.
What are hazardous materials?
Technically, the definition of hazardous materials is: Any item or agent- biological, chemical, radiological and/or physical - which has the potential to cause harm to humans, animals or the environment, either by itself or through interaction with other factors.*
Defined and regulated in the U.S. by laws and regulations administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Department of Transport (DOT), and the U.S. Nuclear Regulation Commission (NRC), each of these entities has its own definition of what a hazardous material is.
Hazardous material professionals
These are the people responsible for and properly qualified to manage such materials. This includes managing and/or advising other managers on hazardous materials at any point in their life-cycle, from process planning and development of new products through manufacture and distribution and use to disposal, clean up and remediation.
How they define It
OSHA's definition includes any substance or chemical which is a "health hazard" or "physical hazard," including chemicals which are carcinogens, toxic agents, irritants, corrosives, sensitizers; agents which act on the hematopoietic system; agents which damage the lungs, skin, eyes, or mucous membranes; chemicals which are combustible, explosive, flammable, oxidizers, pyrophorics, unstable-reactive or water-reactive; and chemicals which in the course of normal handling, use, or storage may produce or release dusts, gases, fumes, vapors, mists or smoke which may have any of the previously mentioned characteristics.
EPA incorporates the OSHA definition, and adds any item or chemical which can cause harm to people, plants, or animals when released by spilling, leaking, pumping, pouring, emitting, emptying, discharging, injecting, escaping, leaching, dumping or disposing into the environment.
DOT defines a hazardous material as any item or chemical which, when being transported or moved in commerce, is a risk to public safety or the environment, and is regulated as such under its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulations (49 CFR 100-199), which includes the Hazardous Materials Regulations, In addition, hazardous materials in transport are regulated by the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code; Dangerous Goods Regulations of the International Air Transport Association; Technical Instructions of the International Civil Aviation Organization; and U.S. Air Force Joint Manual, Preparing Hazardous Materials for Military Air Shipments.
The NRC regulates materials that are considered hazardous because they produce ionizing radiation, which means those materials that produce alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays, x-rays, neutrons, high-speed electrons, high-speed protons, and other particles capable of producing ions. This includes "special nuclear material," by-product material, and radioactive substances.
Hazmat truckers are the ones who have to transport this dangerous material. The Institute of Hazardous Materials Management (IHMM) adheres to the aforementioned definition* of what hazardous materials are. Their list also includes such materials as; explosives, corrosive materials, flammable or combustible liquids and solids, radioactive materials, poisons, or oxidizing substances.
Being a hazmat driver involves more than just driving these materials from place to place. They transport material but also they have to carefully monitor their routes and be aware of proper safety measures at all times. They continually adjust their routes based on traffic and road conditions to make sure the material gets to destinations on time and in a safe condition.
The regular pressures that truck drivers feel every day is basically doubled for the men and women who are transporting hazardous materials.
What it takes
Hazmat trucking is more dangerous than regular trucking so a regular CDL isn’t sufficient to become a hazmat driver.
Drivers must have a hazmat endorsement code (Code H) before they can be certified to haul hazardous materials. The good news is hazmat drivers are in high demand and some companies will pay for a driver to become hazmat certified.
The statute that governs requirements for hazmat drivers is chapter 51 of title 49 of the U.S. Code. Section 5107 covers all details of hazmat transportation including the training of hazmat employees.
According to 5107, employees must receive training on how to safely load, unload, handle, store and transport hazardous materials. Additionally, they must receive training on how to respond to an emergency incident involving the transport of dangerous materials.
Training will cover the basics of how to deal with hazardous materials and the rules that govern each type of material as well as the vehicle that is being employed to transport said materials.
Nuts and bolts
First, for anyone who wants to be a truck driver, they must attain a CDL. Once you have a CDL then you can go after the hazmat endorsement. For the endorsement, you’ll need to complete an application that requires the following:
ID proof of being at least 21
Proof of citizenship or legal residence
A medical and eye exam
Hazmat knowledge test must be passed
Along with the application, fees will run you anywhere between $80-$110. You’ll have to pass a TSA background check which can take up to 60 days.
To prepare for the hazmat test it’s best to take hazmat training from an accredited training provider. DOT hazmat training focuses on OSHA’s regulations as well as the training requirements contained in 49CFR of the Federal DOT requirements.
Thanks to the emergence of the eLearning industry, individuals looking to become hazmat drivers can now complete the hazmat test online. This allows potential hazmat drivers to move through the process at their own pace and on their own time.
The training will include how to identify hazardous materials, how to handle and transport them and what precautionary measures must be implemented to the satisfaction of standards set by the industry.
Sometimes hazardous materials must be transported by tankers. In order to drive tankers, a driver must attain a tanker endorsement- Code N. A driver has the option to attain both the hazmat endorsement and the tanker endorsement at the same time and obtain an X endorsement.
Drivers know that any kind of accident with an 18-wheeler can be dangerous, but hauling hazardous materials just compounds the danger. Hazmat drivers must be familiar with the dangers these materials present. The everyday risks of driving become more serious when you add these possible risks to the mix:
If the material is flammable chances are an accident could cause the materials to ignite. This elevates the danger for people involved in the accident, emergency responders, bystanders, and the surrounding environment.
If the hazmat substance is highly volatile it has the potential to explode. This could result in death or dire injury to anyone in the accident or nearby. If the explosion is somewhat delayed, as can happen with some materials, this could endanger responders and others nearby.
If the materials being transported are corrosive, they could hurt, maim or even kill anyone who comes in contact with them.
If radioactive materials are being transported simply being in the proximity, even without touching the materials, could result in serious adverse health effects. If the substance seeps into groundwater it could injure populations of people.
Like radioactive substances, poisons can seep into the surrounding environment and cause harm to people and nature for miles and miles around.
Most hazmat drivers will tell you that the dangers are there but, the benefits make hauling hazmat materials well with it.
The salary is very good. As of February 2020, the average hazmat tanker driver’s salary in the US is $61,870. The salary range falls between $54,631 and $70,946 depending on the state you’re driving in.
It’s one of the highest paying careers in the trucking industry and The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 17% employment growth by 2026.
As always, we should respect truck drivers when we share the road with them, they perform a vital and dangerous service. When they are hauling hazardous materials, it’s even more important to share the road well with them.
Other drivers must be aware and understand the dangers truck drivers deal with day in and day out. Hazardous materials aren’t just dangerous for the men and women who are brave enough to haul them. An accident involving hazardous materials could have dire effects on a large population as well as the environment and the flora and fauna that live there.
Pay attention to hazmat trucks and give those drivers a break, make their already dangerous job as easy as possible.