The good, the bad and the ugly side of dangerous goods transportation by road

The good, the bad side of dangerous goods transportation by road

Dangerous Goods are also known as Hazardous Material: transportation of these goods is guided by very strict regulations developed by some states and governments around the globe, due to the inherent risks they pose to Health, Safety, Property and the Environment.

These Dangerous Goods, articles and substances, as classified into nine (9) Classes by the United Nations Subcommittee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (SCoETDG), are as follows;

Class – 1 Explosives, Class – 2 Gases, Class – 3 Flammable liquids, Class – 4 Flammable solids, Class – 5 Oxidising & Organic peroxides, Class – 6 Toxic & infectious substances, Class – 7 Radioactive material, Class – 8 Corrosive material, and Class – 9 Miscellaneous. Dangerous Goods.

Every Dangerous Good or Hazardous material, article and substance known, and even those that are yet to be discovered, must belong to one of these nine classes as mentioned above based on the nature of hazard they pose.

Some examples of products that come under these classes are:

Explosives used in the Mining and Road construction sector come under Class – 1.

Hydrogen Gas for Rocket fuel, Oxygen for medical use, LPG Gas for domestic use belong to Class – 2.

Petrol, Diesel, Kerosene, Alcohols for industrial use, and also Alcoholic beverages (those that contains more than 24% but not more than 70% alcohol by volume) with typical example in our local parlance being ‘Apio’ or ‘Akpeteshie’ or ‘Ogogoro’ which are heavily consumed by their users also belong to Class – 3.

Matches, Magnesium diamide for polymerisation catalyst and Calcium carbide belong to Class – 4.

Ammonium nitrate, Ammonium nitrate fertiliser and Hydrogen peroxide belong to Class -5.

Products like Cyanide, Nicotine and Agrochemicals for Agricultural use come under Class – 6.

Radionuclide or isotopes for medical or industrial purposes, such as Cobalt 60, Caesium 131 and lodine 132 belong to Class – 7.

Mercury, Battery acids, Sulphuric and other acids belong to Class – 8.

Class – 9 Dangerous Goods are said to be any article or substance that presents a danger not covered by other classes during transportation. Examples are: Asbestos, Garlic oil, life – saving appliances etc.

The technological advancement that we see and benefit from, directly or indirectly, today would not have been possible without the use of any of these 9 classes of Dangerous Goods, articles and substances as mentioned above.  This makes the safe transportation of these Dangerous Goods from one point to another very crucial to economic growth in any country.

However, failure by any nation to ensure their safety in terms of handling, transporting and usage stands to incur a financial burden rather than elicit financial gain.

In Ghana, most of these Dangerous Goods are imported into the country from various parts of the world in commercial quantities by Sea, and on fewer occasions by Air transport. These goods then go through their distribution channels by road transport to their various points of wholesale and retail outlets.

Also, transiting Dangerous Goods from the Sea Ports of Tema and Takoradi in Ghana destined to some of the landlocked African countries like Burkina Faso – and to a lesser extent Mali and Niger – also go by road transport through the trunk roads of Ghana in most cases.

International Companies in neighbouring African countries that deal with bulk distribution of Dangerous Goods or Hazardous material products through their wide distribution network across borders also transport these goods by road through Ghana to their final destinations.

But, at the moment, there seems to be no policy or regulations in Ghana to regulate Dangerous Goods’ transportation by road holistically. Even though the Chamber of Mines and a few other Governmental Agencies in Ghana may have their own guidelines for dealing with handling of certain kinds of Dangerous Goods, articles and substances within their sector, that does not cover the whole scope of Dangerous Goods’ carriage by road.

This means that, there seem to be no direct supervision in the road transport sector of Ghana when it comes to Dangerous Goods carriage by road. When it happens this way, the road network become vulnerable to Dangerous Goods accidents because there are no national rules to check these local and international drivers for compliance from point to point when it comes to Dangerous Goods.

Accidents involving Dangerous Goods normally come with detrimental effects on the community in which the accident occurs, but sometimes it does not end there but extends to other parts as well – depending on type of hazard presented by the goods.

A number of Dangerous Goods accidents have happened on the trunk roads of Ghana over the years, and the media reportage always narrates them as just accident but not ‘Dangerous Goods accidents’.

When it happens this way, investigations into the cause of such accidents become limited as to whether or not the cause was a result of mechanical failure or careless driving of some sort – potentially leaving out the real culprit, which may have been non-compliance with a particular Dangerous Goods Safety rule regarding the type of goods the driver was carrying at that time.

Some of these accidents involving Dangerous Goods may also destroy the road, pollute the atmosphere, cause dangerous spillages which may eventually finds their way into drainage and finally enter into water-bodies – in the long run causing contamination that is injurious to human health and aquatic life.

For the purpose of transportation, Dangerous Goods or Hazardous material articles and substances are packaged, marked, labelled, placarded and transported in a unique way, having a distinctive external appearance that communicates all the inherent danger(s) to whoever comes close for safety reasons.

As a minimum requirement per international standard in most cases, the external appearance of Dangerous Goods packages must show the UN number, the Proper Shipping Name (PSN) of the content, addresses of the shipper and the consignee, the required hazard and handling label(s) or placards based on the mode of transport to be used, and 24-Hour Emergency contact to be monitored by a person who is knowledgeable of the hazards and characteristics of the goods being transported.

Vehicles carrying Dangerous Goods by Road in bulk must also display Hazard Placard(s), Hazard Identification Number plate or Kemler Code, and also Emergency Action Code (EAC) Plate to give useful information for Fire Departments as to what action to take in case of fire involving such goods.

Getting understanding in all these as a country requires constant training be given to all the stakeholders in state institutions who have the duty to ensure road safety in the country; and also requires government giving constant public awareness and notices to the citizenry on this subject matter.

It takes drivers who lack Dangerous Goods Awareness training to display Dangerous Goods Hazard placards boldly on their vehicles as a decoration, and use them to carry passengers. This is so ridiculous and needs to be checked.

On a lighter note, if a driver decorates his vehicle with a Division 4.2 hazard placard, he is only informing the general public that he is carrying a ‘Spontaneously combustible passenger’! So, when you notice that passengers are fighting themselves at the least provocation, it is normal.

According to Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), as at September 2021 the population of Ghana according to the census was 30.8 million. And they also stated that Ghana’s population has grown almost five-fold since the first post-independence census was conducted in 1960.

It is worth noting that as the population grows larger, more Dangerous Goods, articles and substances are manufactured to meet the higher demand for them; but the misapplication and mishandling of these same goods – due to lack of training and also non-existence of clear-cut policies to regulate the system – will translate into more catastrophic situations such as health hazards, property damage and environmental degradation at a higher speed.

Higher magnitude Dangerous Goods Accidents in any country are considered an emergency situation that always needs urgent intervention by government and civil society – which goes a long way to drain government coffers and reduce productivity.

On the other hand, when the population grows larger, and of course the demand for Dangerous Goods articles and substances also become higher in tandem – but the citizenry are well-informed about the inherent dangers of these articles and substances they are exposed to, and those who handles them on a regular basis are mandated to be trained before coming in contact with such goods, and clear-cut polices are in place by the State concerned and are strictly enforceable – these will also translate into higher degrees of safety, with minimal health hazards if any. Property damage may be negligible and, finally, the environment will not suffer as much since such accidents and incidences will not be so rampant.

In this regard, government expenditure on such accident situations can rather be put to use in other meaningful projects.

I am of the opinion that it is not too late for the road transport department of Ghana and its stakeholders to consider initiating the process of having holistic Dangerous Goods by Road Regulations for the sector and the country – if plans are not already far-advanced toward this agenda.

The writer is an IATA-Certified Dangerous Goods Instructor

MOBILE NO: 020 815 1133     E-MAIL: [email protected]

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