As part of its national defense mission, the US military makes use of a wide range of hazardous substances which can include petroleum products, chemicals, explosives and solvents - all of which can pose a physical risk if handled improperly.
In this blog post we explore the process by which substances are classified as hazardous, the role of army hazmat training in preparing personnel for the safe transport of hazmat materials and the ways in which hands-on scenarios can enhance theoretical understanding of hazmat safety.
Classification of hazardous substances
In the US, any substance that requires transportation, and that has the potential to pose a hazard (whether it be to public safety or to the environment,) is required to adhere to hazmat regulations as set out by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA.)
A hazardous material can be defined as any item or chemical that poses either a health risk or a physical danger in the event of leaking, spillage, leaching, dumping or disposal into the environment.
Title 49, Section 172.101, of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) provides clear terms and definitions of materials that are denoted as posing a hazmat risk. If an item isn’t on the list, or if it is deemed to be in a sufficiently small reportable quantity, then it may not be classed as a hazard.
Chemicals that are classed as hazmat include carcinogenic, toxic, irritant or corrosive substances; combustible or flammable liquids; flammable solids, compressed gases, organic peroxides, explosives; or any chemical that releases fumes, gases, smoke, mist or dust in the course of its transport, handling or storage.
Before any military hazardous material can be shipped or moved, it must first be certified as being “safe to transport” - including verifying all paperwork, packaging, labeling or marking of hazardous materials and following the appropriate procedure for the correct loading, unloading, receiving or forwarding of items.
All substances that are deemed to be a hazmat risk must then be correctly packaged, depending on the potential risk that they pose. Hazmat substances can typically be sorted into one of three packing groups:
1) Packing Group I - indicating that there is a high degree of risk associated with the substance
2) Packing Group II - indicating that the item presents a moderate degree of danger
3) Packing Group III - indicating that the material is deemed to be hazardous but of low danger
Once a hazmat substance has been packaged it must then be clearly labeled for transport, depending on the hazard category into which it falls. The categories, which are clearly defined in the CFR regulations, cover everything from explosives, flammable gases and spontaneously combustible items to poisons, infectious substances, corrosives and radioactive materials.
In some cases too, an item may be classified as having both a primary hazard and one (or more) secondary hazards, which is governed by specific labeling and packaging rules.
Army hazmat training certification
In the US, all branches within the Department of Defense (DOD) provide hazmat training to educate and certify relevant personnel in the safe storing, transport and handling of hazardous items.
Any military employee whose duties involve the transportation or handling of hazmat substances will be required to complete certification training specific to their duties. Hazmat safety training typically comprises a combination of classroom-based and/or web-based learning and is required to be repeated in its entirety on a regular basis.
One example of certification provided by the US military is the Ammo-67-DL HazMat Familiarization and Safety in Transportation which provides an overview of essential hazmat safety including vehicle inspection, the Joint Hazard Classification System (JHCS), emergency response and the certifying of hazmat materials for safe transport.
The US navy offers a similar variety of certifications in Hazardous Control and Management (HC&M) to all its enlisted navy personnel who are tasked with handling, storing, transporting or disposing of hazardous materials.
While there is no doubt that classroom and web-based training ticks the boxes in ensuring military personnel gain a theoretical understanding of the importance of hazmat safety - it’s also important to ask the question “what happens in the event that something goes wrong?”
And what hazmat safety training procedures are in place to ensure the safety of personnel, the public and the environment in the event that hazmat substances are inadvertently (or perhaps even deliberately) released?
As we outlined in a recent blog post on realistic scenarios for effective hazmat safety training, there is a strong argument for providing military crews, and indeed anyone tasked with first response, with exposure to realistic and engaging hands-on learning experiences that prepare them for a variety of hazmat threats.
In this way, structured classroom teaching can be supported by access to live-incident training to ensure that military teams are confident in the safe handling of hazardous substances and in the correct protocol to follow in the event of a release.