When offering hazardous material (HM) for transportation, a shipper is required to create a shipping paper that is intended to inform the carrier of the inherent risks involved in the handling and transport of the material. Shipping papers also contain specific hazard information, standardized so that emergency responders may identify appropriate measures to be taken in the event of a HM incident. The U.S. Department of Transportation requires carriers to have a shipping paper with the HM shipment at all times, and both the shipper and carrier must retain a copy of this shipping paper for a period of time after the shipment has reached its final destination. HM shipping papers have some drawbacks: the current paper documents may not be interchangeable between modes; a paper system is labor intensive; and paper is perishable to the extent that in some HM incidents, the shipping papers may be destroyed, removing vital emergency response information.
Organizations representing shippers and carriers have expressed the need to improve the process by allowing the option of electronic shipping papers as an important tool for enhancing productivity and efficiency in HM transport. The International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code and the International Civil Aviation Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air (ICAO Technical Instructions) permit the use of electronic data processing (EDP) and electronic data interchange (EDI) transmission techniques. Nevertheless, carriers still usually require HM shippers to generate HM shipping papers prior to accepting cargo, partly because no shipment can move only by aircraft or vessel, and regulations governing other modes may not facilitate the use of EDI for hazardous materials.
The use of internationally compatible electronic data sharing technologies could significantly improve the exchange of hazard information among shippers, carriers, regulatory agencies, and emergency responders, especially for time-sensitive cargo and containerized cargo. Timely access to accurate hazardous materials information will likely reduce errors in information exchange, improve efficiency, enhance security, and improve the response efforts in the event of an HM incident. Research is needed to identify the capability within the transport sector to use an electronic means of documentation as a complementary alternative to a paper-based system.
The objective of this research is to develop a roadmap for the use of electronic shipping papers as an alternative to the current paper-based hazardous materials communication system. The roadmap will address the electronic transfer of safety, operational, regulatory compliance, and emergency response data and documentation, for and amongst all transport modes.
Status: Published as HMCRP Report 8.