August 23, 2011 -- Did you know that many of the things we routinely ship are considered hazardous materials even though most of the items don’t come with warning labels? As the only Haz-Mat Certified shipping center in the Lafayette area, Shipping Etc. (http://shippingetc.com) is keenly aware of the risks related to packing and shipping dangerous goods. In an effort to increase public awareness of the issue, Shipping Etc. is launching a "Ship Responsibly" program in Lafayette and the surrounding area.
"Most people have no idea how many things are considered hazardous," says John Nugent, owner of Shipping Etc. "Companies and individuals often unintentionally ship products and equipment that can actually threaten the lives of the people charged with moving them," he says. "We're talking about everything from oilfield equipment, to auto parts, to batteries, to cosmetics," he explained.
A recent tragedy highlighted the problem. In April 2011, a UPS plane crashed in Dubai after a fire started in the cargo hold. Both pilots were killed. The cargo included numerous packages containing lithium batteries (like those that power many of today's laptop computers and cameras). The batteries were implicated in the incident because lithium batteries contain metal that can spontaneously ignite if exposed to air. In addition, the positive and negative poles in some brands are close together, which can cause short circuiting. Fires involving rechargeable lithium-ion batteries can reach 1,100 degrees F, and lithium-metal battery fires can exceed 4,000 degrees F, easily hot enough to melt an aluminum plane. In this case, none of the packages was labeled hazardous even though international shipping standards require the warning labels.
Similar, though not always fatal, incidents occur every year, on airplanes and trucks, and in various shipping facilities around the country and the world.
"The April incident really brought home the need to educate people about the kinds of things that are considered hazardous," said Nugent. "Industry research suggests that one in 200 parcels presented for shipping these days contains hazardous, prohibited, restricted or illegal contents. That means that a lot of people are being put at risk," he added. In addition, the TSA, which enforces regulations concerning dangerous goods shipped via air, can impose hefty fines for violations. Such fines usually start at $10,000 and can jump into millions of dollars and jail time, depending on the type and scope of the violations.
"It's extremely important that we educate people about potential problems caused by hazardous items, especially since dangerous items are not always easy to recognize," Nugent noted.
The key to the "Ship Responsibly" program is package content disclosure by customers. "We already ask customers if their packages contain hazardous or prohibited items, but now we'll be adding signs and photos of specific items to our customer area, and will add an extensive list of those products to our website to help customers become educated about the issue," says Nugent. He noted that Shipping Etc. has been providing this information to its corporate clients in the area for some time.
Shipping Etc. is the largest packaging, crating and shipping center in the Acadiana area. The company ships to more than 220 countries worldwide, and is the only independently owned UPS-authorized shipping center in Lafayette.