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The safe and secure transportation of dangerous goods Q&A with Carlo Corti

Transporting dangerous goods requires expertise and knowledge which differs by modality and where you are transporting to and from – especially when crossing borders. Cordstrap UK’s Commercial Manager, Carlo Corti, recently talked about the challenges dangerous goods shippers face at a British Association of Dangerous Goods Professionals (BADGP) webinar. Here Carlo answers some of the key questions from the webinar.

Q: Isn’t cargo securing one of those things that most supply chains have already mastered, especially those carrying dangerous goods?

A: You would think something as basic as this would be in hand. You’d never dream of putting a baby in a car without securing them in a well-engineered car seat with the best restraint system possible. So it amazes me that people are still sending cargo out into some of the most punishing environments in the world without the correct protection to keep them safely in place.  Even more so with dangerous goods such as chemicals which have the potential to cause catastrophic accidents leading to environmental disasters and the loss of human lives.

The number of ship fires we have seen in recent years has risen alarmingly and the fact that 50% of these are put down to poor cargo securing or packing, clearly indicates that there is an ongoing problem. There continue to be road accidents and derailments which are attributed to poor loading and cargo securing practices. Over $50 billion is lost every year due to cargo loss and damage. Real vigilance is now needed to ensure consistently high performance right across the supply chain.

This means that everyone along the full length of your supply chain must understand the importance of best practice and this should be cascaded from the top of the organization right down to the people loading each shipment. The reputation of your brand and the economic viability of your business hinge on the person who shuts the door of your containers.

I hear a lot of discussion about the technical routes to drive up customer satisfaction and these focus on aspects like digitization and automation. But it is always worth remembering that there is no greater risk to customer relationships than receiving goods that are damaged, delayed or lost due to something as fundamental as cargo securing.

Q: So what are the fundamentals of cargo securing and why are they so hard to master?

A: On the surface, the basic principles appear relatively simple involving mass and gravity. But every modality presents different challenges and, in a complex global supply chain, your cargo can be subject to any or all of these on a single journey.

A shipment can move in any one of six directions and can be affected by acceleration, deceleration and changes of direction. The mass of the cargo must be protected from all of the these by an adequate securing force. Understanding these forces is key and requires in-depth knowledge of each modality based on detailed testing and research. For example, at sea, a ship can roll, heave, sway, surge, pitch or yaw. Each movement forcing your cargo in a different direction. Trucks using public roads have to be capable of sudden, emergency braking and cargo on a train can be subject to forces as high as 4G under certain circumstances.

Developing precisely the right solutions to all of these forces for loads with widely differing characteristics requires a significant degree of engineering expertise. We have spent the past 55 years, perfecting our understanding of the forces at play and engineering solutions designed to protect any cargo in any conditions.

Q: Aren’t there regulations to ensure that dangerous goods are always carried safely?

A: There are. And you are required by law to comply with them for all dangerous goods shipments. But they are complex. There are different codes for every modality and there are often local regulations in addition to the international ones. This can cause confusion and, because they are not always enforced particularly diligently, some shippers are prepared to take the risk and cut corners to try and reduce costs. That’s fine until there is an inspection, where shipments can be delayed or rejected or, worse still, an accident where you can find yourself liable to prosecution and massive damages – both financial and reputational.

Our approach is to ensure that all of our cargo securing solutions are designed and certified to meet the regulatory requirements anywhere in the world. So, wherever your supply chain takes you, you know you will be protected.

Q: Given the risks, why would anyone take the risk of not securing dangerous cargo properly?

A: Usually cost. Some operators think that if their loading teams do a reasonably adequate job and leave them to improvise solutions based on what they have always done, they will be OK. But, as Easyjet founder, Stelios Haji-Ioannu, puts it: “If you think safety is expensive, try an accident”.

Ironically, taking a more scientific and defined approach can often work out more cost-effective on an operational level. Having exactly the right tools and equipment helps teams work much more efficiently and quickly.

Labor costs are typically the largest expense for logistics operations, so we have designed many of our cargo protection solutions to be applied in minutes by a single operator. That’s in stark contrast to some of the improvised wooden blocking arrangements I have seen which must have taken considerable time to construct and are still inadequate and non-compliant.

With the right equipment and know-how, containers can also be stacked and filled far more efficiently - maximizing use of the space.

Q: What is the key to safer transportation of dangerous goods?

In a word, education. It’s about getting your entire supply chain to learn precisely how loads can and should be secured. You cannot rely on your teams to work out the physics for themselves. Too often we have seen dunnage bags used to pack a load with no understanding of what stresses they will tolerate if the load is forced against them. I have seen containers left half empty because the loading team had been told it was unsafe to stack when it was safe to do so with the correct loading and securing system.

At Cordstrap, we have always recognized that it is not enough simply to sell product solutions and we have built a global support network that can deliver expert advice and training to everyone working along your supply chain. I’d recommend that any dangerous goods professional works in close partnership with a cargo protection specialist. The cost of getting things wrong is just too high.

Talk to your local Cordstrap expert about the ways you can secure your dangerous cargo safely and efficiently.

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