Getting old ain’t for sissies. In some ways it seems fairly easy, just keep on living. But old age will sneak up on you. Bones become brittle without you knowing. Muscles don’t stretch like they used to, but the loss of flex and elasticity is so gradual that most people don’t realize it’s happening. About the only way that age doesn’t sneak up on us is in getting facial wrinkles. And despite determined attempts to stay positive, who has ever truly happily uttered “Oh good, my first smile line!”?
Once it’s here, though, the hard part begins. Sure, the physical ramifications aren’t easy to deal with. Pulled, strained and aching muscles are frequent, from playing your favorite sport and not being able to walk the next day, to the twinges your back gives you when reaching something high up in a cabinet, to attempting to lift something you’ve lifted twenty-eleven times before and getting locked into a painful body position. And sure, the changes to your appearance accelerate dramatically, sometimes to the point that you walk past a mirror and have to turn your head to get a better look at that strange person who was reflected back to your peripheral vision. But, I think the emotional adjustments are the hardest of all.
The strains and aches keep coming if you refuse to acknowledge your age, and unwillingness to acknowledge is an emotional issue. And there are a host of other behavioral issues that come with denial. How many broken hips have occurred because a senior citizen refused to hold onto something for balance when stepping out of a shower? How many tumbles on stairs, some deadly, have occurred because a senior citizen was too proud to use the handrail, both down and up? How many senior citizens have succumbed to diabetes or heart disease because they refused to acknowledge that they shouldn’t continue eating the way they’d eaten the previous part of their life? And, oh my goodness, how many debilitating or fatal medical conditions could have been prevented and/or treated if senior citizens went for medical care more often than they did when they were middle-aged? From this Porch Swing, this old person thinks that all the physical stuff related to aging is so much more successfully dealt with when one admits and accepts that one has become old.
So, I am old. Truly. I am not quite as old as time itself. I’m pretty sure that I’m older than Adam lived to be, but not as old as the 969 years Methuselah is said to have made it to. But, I kind of like to express my age in geologic terms. Not only am I older than the hills, I’m older than dirt. Yep, if I ever retire and get new business cards, they’ll say “Gene Sanders, Older Than Dirt”.
In many ways, though, it is good to be older than dirt. For every 10 people that think I’m automatically senile for being over age 60, there’s one who thinks I must be wise. Gosh, I’d sure like to be wise, but I’m happy when someone mistakes me for being that way. When someone asks about a DG/HazMat regulation “why the hell did they do it this way?”, I sometimes know the answer. And I saw the sun come up the morning I wrote this. Someday I won’t be able to say that, and I will no longer be older than dirt, but be on my way toward becoming part of it.
Speaking of HazMat/DG history and of death, I think it’s important to honor those no longer here who had a hand in DG compliance, and thus helped keep the rest of us safe. My list will be different than yours. I’m only listing those I had direct contact with. And while contributions varied, all were important to me in one way or another. Someday, later, I may explain about why each of these people were important to me and to DG, but now’s not that time. When you glance over my names, please take a moment to reflect upon who would be on your list of names.
Oh, and consider checking out https://hcblive.com/tag/obituary. You may know some listed there, too. And maybe I could honor the memory of those on my list by submitting something about them and their role in DG for that page. Thank you, HCB.
It’s not just people that pass on, but so do old ways, too. I remember Al Roberts teaching me about some of the first HazMat regulations ever, that required a pillow or mattress at the end of the ramp upon which barrels of explosives were rolled down out of boxcars (railcars). I wasn’t around for those, as they were more than a century ago. But, I do remember some DG stuff that dates back to the beginning of HCB 40 years ago. In no particular order, here’s some old DG/HazMat stuff I remember, and how it’s changed, and speculations on where it might be going.
• Blue binders for the IMO’s IMDG Code regulations. Each year we’d take out the pages that held regulations that had been removed or altered, and added pages that had new or updated regulations. Page numbering became wonky, as we might take out three pages and replace them with five new ones. So, if I remember correctly, we might replace pages 86, 87, and 88 with 86, 87, 88-1, 88-2, and 88-3. And, as with most loose-leaf binders, the most frequently used pages would sometimes tear out. Hopefully, you’d notice as one of them fell out while carrying the binders from the bookshelf to your desk or workstation.
These days, we don’t even need paper regulations very often. I prefer them sometimes, especially when you have a general idea where something is, but not quite exact. For, example, if I was trying to find an exception for the use of orientation arrows on small packages, I would go to somewhere in the marking requirements and flip pages until I saw the picture of the arrows. Then, I’d be where I wanted to be.
Of course, the young DG professionals sneer at me for that. I tell them it’s better than using a menu driven system to navigate through a set of online regulations. And, they tell me that menu driven systems are almost as old as I am, and ask if I’ve ever heard of ctrl-F or command-F or seen an icon that looks like a magnifying glass. They’re happy to race me finding something in the regulations, and quite often the whippersnappers and their smarter-than-i-am phones beat me to it.
So, e-regs are the future, I’m sure. Eventually, there won’t be any need for a periodic corrigenda or errata, as the corrections will just ‘magically’ appear soon after a device is connected to the Internet. Heck, we might not even need a biennial issuance of the regulations, if all the changes can be made in what’s virtually real time. And except for a few dead zones coupled with dead batteries, we may not even print paper copies of the regulations at all. Eventually.
• Packaging used to be manufactured prescriptively, with regulations about how far over the first side of a fibreboard box the fourth side had to overlap, and whether that ‘join’ could be made with staples or glue and, if staples, how thick the staples had to be and how close together they must be. We went from prescriptive packaging to POP. And no, it’s not “POP packaging” because that would be redundant. Now, along with the POPs, we have ‘closure instructions’ or ‘manufacturer’s instructions in writing’ that must be retained as documents subject to inspection. All of which make sense.
For what’s next in packaging though, I look at what they’re trying with lithium battery packaging. No longer does a package just have to survive normal conditions of transport, it may have to survive fires, it may have to contain reaction byproducts, and it may have to have not just cushioning and/or absorbent but neutralizing or hazard-mitigating components. If lithium battery packaging developments are our guide, we may have to have spill kit neutralization in between inner containers of acids and their outer packaging, we may have to have anti-microbial or virucidal cushioning around Category A 6.2 materials, and we may have to contain runaway 4.1 self-reactions within a package.
There’s also the surviving of conveyor belt sorting systems, which subject packages to stresses that weren’t “normal” back when specification packaging tests were added. Now we might need a side crush test, and not just a compression test from the top. And/or we might need to test packagings with inner containers to demonstrate prevention of leakage in all orientations, which could then obviate the need for orientation arrows. Wait, packaging developments could potentially affect marking requirements? Sure, maybe.
• Hazards in those long-ago days were expressed in words, and there were no packing groups. Toxic materials in the USA were Poison A or Poison B, analogous to today’s 6.2 degree of danger rating system. Now, those two are 6.1, I and 6.1, II (roughly speaking). To add 6.1, III, we had to regulate some previously unregulated materials, for which we created a new hazard label, Keep Away From Food, which oddly enough didn’t say Keep Away From Food, but Stow Away From Foodstuffs. We do keep some vestige of the old hazard class words around though, occasionally to the detriment of safety and emergency response. When we put words on a 4.1 hazard label, those words are usually “Flammable Solid”. What could possibly go wrong in responding to a self-reactive liquid or polymerizing liquid or legacy desensitized explosive liquid inside a damaged package bearing a label that says “Solid”?
If we looked at our hazard classification system all over again, and tried to make it have some guiding, consistent principles, it might look entirely different. Just think about our current inconsistencies. Sometimes we categorize by physical state, as with the gases all being in Class 2, and other times we just don’t. Sometimes we categorize by a type of hazard, as with all corrosives being assigned to Class 8, and yet for materials whose only hazard is that they will burn we use 2, 3, and 4.1. And heck, we don’t even pay attention to our own current system sometimes. The definition of a 4.1 flammable solid used to include words similar to “burns so persistently or vigorously as to create a hazard in transportation”, which pretty much describes lithium batteries. So, why did we put lithium batteries in Class 9 instead of in 4.1? Of all the changes made from the past, this is the area that I think most needs continuing change, and unfortunately, the area least likely to change because of its complexity and the consequences of introducing a whole new system.
• Shipping papers used to be laboriously hand printed by whichever unlucky employee had the best handwriting, sometimes pushing the pen down hard to make that bottom piece of paper under the layers of carbon paper legible. Then we got a typewriter, which was great, but still took a lot of time to make multiple copies. Giant copiers arrived, and DG paperwork was often important enough to warrant permission to use those expensive beasts and their inks and toners. Printers got cheap, and typewriters were replaced with Word or Excel templates to ensure everything was lined up properly when generating shipping papers. Now, of course, FedEx Express in the United States won’t accept handwritten nor typewritten nor PC-generated DGDs, insisting only upon DGDs produced from an error-checking software system. And those error-checking, document generating, software systems are proliferating.
Some of the new software systems, especially those provided by carriers, also send electronic versions of the DG documents instantaneously upon printing. With testing of e-documents going on in many parts of the world, it seems likely that e-docs are the wave of the future. Of course, there are potential issues with lack of connectivity to the internet in ‘dead cell’ areas, but preemptive auto-loading of e-documents onto local emergency responders’ phones before the transport vehicle/boat/train/plane enters a geographic region could render that problem moot.
And while we’re on technology fixes for e-generated shipping documents, it’s probably worth mentioning that more and more of these document-generating softwares include some classification determining capability, too. I use the word “capability” lightly, though, because with all of the non-objective classification criteria, such as usage, packaging type, mode of transport, quantity, subjectivity, and destination, I have been able to make every single one of these that I’ve ever tested, fail. So, more work remains to be done before these softwares can perform all the DG functions for us.
• Tracking of shipments just wasn’t really done in those old days. Notification of arrival could be done by telephone or by postcard. About the time I started DG work, barcodes were in their infancy, but within a contained system could be used for tracking. At one point, while working for a parcel carrier, we would use a big, handheld “gun” to scan barcodes, but then at the end of the shift had to dock the gun into a cradle so the stored information could be shared via wired connection with the rest of the system. In other words, no WiFi.
And barcodes were often used for an entire shipment, not the individual packages within a shipment. Tracking down the 1 of 6 packages that didn’t get delivered was quite difficult, because the barcode would erroneously say that the 1 was delivered with the 5 of 6 that actually were. Fortunately, that practice seems dead as far as DG is concerned. Now, barcodes are usually not actually bars, gun-style scanners are small and communicate instantaneously, and when conveyer belts are used, code readers are installed in arches over the belts and/or along the side and/or underneath, so no matter the package orientation, everyone everywhere can instantly see the location of a package.
And in addition to barcodes on the outside, we can put electronic devices (powered by batteries, and thus HazMat/DG themselves) inside packages. These devices may only record location via GPS, but may also record temperature, humidity, and pressure. When they first came out, these devices just stored the data for downloading at the end of the journey, but now via satellite or via cell phone networks these devices can give real-time updates of their location and condition. There are also RFID chips, which are passive non-DG chips, that were originally intended for inventory purposes, but are now sometimes used for tracking in or tracking out, as they pass under archways built into doorways that track them.
When we consider satellite and cell phone communications, and archways and scanners and temp-tells and RFID chips and actively communicating GPS trackers, we can get a vision into the future. Not only could DG be tracked virtually everywhere, but that information could be tied to the e-documents and shared proactively with emergency responders. Imagine if underpasses and overhead street signs and gates into and out of ports were all equipped with RFID readers. Imagine if every package chirped its location every five minutes. Imagine if barrels and IBCs and portable tanks and tank trucks and railcars chirped the level inside every five minutes. We could have emergency responders pre-notified, with information downloaded before it was ever needed, and we could get alerts about incidents like wrecks and leaks, often before a driver (or engineer or captain) either knows or could ‘call it in’. We could re-direct misdirected DG/HazMat before it goes places it isn’t supposed to be. And all without significant human intervention when everything is routine.
Yeah, I’m older than dirt. And yeah, I remember the ‘good ole days’. But, IMO (maybe or maybe not IMHO), looking back is good for reasons other than just nostalgia. By following the progress we’ve made so far, we may have a better idea where progress may take us in the future. While not fool-proof or 100% reliable, we can still better prepare ourselves for upcoming changes much of the time. So, thank you, Hazardous Cargo Bulletin (a.k.a. hcb), for taking us back 40 years. Your looking back helps this older than dirt DG professional see into the future a little more clearly.
This is the latest in a series of musings from the porch swing of Gene Sanders, principal of Tampa-based WE Train Consulting; telephone: (+1 813) 855 3855; email firstname.lastname@example.org.[post_title] => From the porch swing: Older than dirt [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => from-the-porch-swing-older-than-dirt [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-07-06 08:20:29 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-07-06 07:20:29 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://hcblive.com/?p=23601 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )