Shows frequency and severity of incidents extremely low, but calls for measures to reduce risk of accidents and ensuring negligent parties held liable
The tragedy that befell the Quebec town of Lac Megantic last summer following the derailment of several rail tank cars carrying crude oil has put the issue of dangerous goods transportation by all modes under the microscope. Just last week, federal transport minister, Lisa Raitt, announced that she has asked the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport to conduct a review of the situation and to make recommendations to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Although the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) contends that an incident of the magnitude of Lac Megantic is unlikely to occur where trucks are involved – and while the frequency and severity of dangerous goods incidents involving trucks are extremely low – the Alliance says additional measures should be taken to further reduce the risk of highway accidents, whether dangerous goods are involved or not.
In a white paper of the Transportation of Dangerous Goods by Truck in Canada, CTA repeats its long-standing position that the federal government should introduce a universal mandate requiring all trucks, where the driver is currently required to carry a logbook under the federal hours of service regulations, to be equipped with an electronic recording device (ELD); and introduce a manufacturing standard (in lock-step with the United States) requiring all new heavy trucks to be equipped with a roll stability system. In addition, CTA says all provinces should follow the lead of Ontario and Quebec by requiring the mandatory activation of truck speed limiters at no more than 105 km/hr and also introduce mandatory entry level training for truck drivers based on a national industry standard.
An analysis of the 328 dangerous goods incidents involving trucks in 2012 conducted for CTA shows that the number of incidents was 1.64 per 10,000 shipments. Most (56.4%) of the releases of product were minor (less than 500 litres), which are usually cleaned up with little or no environmental damage. 86.3% of all incidents involved tank trucks. Most incidents occur during loading or unloading (70.7%) and are most often caused by employee error (28%) or equipment failure (34.1%). Releases during loading were most common (51.8%) but 80% led to releases of less than 1,000 litres.
Accidents occurring while on the highway (where the public is most at risk) accounted for 16.2% of total incidents for a frequency of 0.27 per 10,000 shipments. Accidents were the cause in 56.8% of the major incidents (releases greater than 5,000 litres). However, major incidents represented only 6.4% of all incidents. In most cases (67.9%) the major product involved was flammable liquids (mainly crude oil). Accidents involving flammable liquids represented 11% of all incidents and .18 accidents per 10,000 shipments. 16.7% of the incidents involving tank trucks were the result of an accident on the highway. (Analysis conducted for CTA suggests that 80% of these were the result of a single vehicle accident).
The issue of liability in the case of dangerous goods incidents has also loomed large since the Lac Megantic tragedy, with the federal government writing some big cheques for the clean-up and recently calling for increased insurance coverage for rail carriers and shippers. According to the CTA white paper, the determination of liability, and who shall bear the costs of that negligence, is a statement of the public interest and public policy. However, it says the growing trend of shippers seeking to include clauses in freight contracts indemnifying them from liability is contrary to both the public interest and public policy. CTA calls for coordinated action by both the federal and provincial governments in the form of an amendment to the federal and provincial statutes and regulations to annul clauses in freight contracts which indemnify shippers/3PLs from liability for their own negligence.
“I think we can conclude from this white paper that overall the TDG regulations are effective in preventing dangerous goods incidents where trucks are involved,” says CTA president and CEO, David Bradley.
A CTA advisory committee on dangerous goods has been struck to look at the regulations in more detail, “so this is our first word on the subject,” says Bradley. “But we strongly believe the most effective thing governments can do is to take the recommended actions to reduce the risk of highway accidents and to make sure that the parties whose negligence causes an accident are held liable for the claims.”
Transport Canada estimates that 70% (tonnage) of dangerous goods are transported by road, 24% by rail; 6% by marine; and less than 1% by air. The most commonly transported dangerous goods are crude petroleum oil, gasoline and fuel oils. The actual number of shipments of dangerous goods transported by truck is unknown. CTA estimates there are at least 2 million – and likely many more – dangerous goods shipments of various sizes by truck each year in Canada.