License availability, cargo handling quality, and employees’ professionalism: what is necessary to consider when operating dangerous goods by rail?
Warehousing, storage, and transportation of dangerous goods - is a package of services that requires the correct documentation, correct labeling, solid packaging, the right classification, and a meticulous overview of operational requirements.
It all starts by obtaining a license for loading and unloading operations of dangerous goods delivered by rail.
Prior to obtaining this specific license, and prior to starting with the actual operation of receipt of the goods, loading and unloading other obligations need to be fulfilled first.
This requires the provision of an extensive package of documents:
- company registration documents
- warehouse certificates
- internal company documents
- official qualification certificates of employees performing loading and unloading operations
- procedures and contracts for the provision of emergency rescue operations, etc.
and last but not least the actual warehouse procedures stipulating the preparation and organization of unloading and receiving of dangerous goods, staff training, and the development of the instructions.
Experience in handling dangerous goods
For more than 10 years, the Ahlers team has built extensive experience in handling dangerous goods delivered by railway. This all started with handling paints and varnish products. The first operation was launched in Chelyabinsk in 2013, followed by a second in Novosibirsk in the spring of 2017 and a third in 2022 in Saint Petersburg.
The required license is issued to a legal entity and is designated for a specific building within the warehouse complex. When a new warehouse for dangerous goods is opened, the verification and registration procedure is repeated. This can happen through upgrading the existing infrastructure, for example, Ahlers built an additional ramp along the railway siding, brought fire hydrants to the buffer zone, and mounted powder modules for fire extinguishing.
In addition, the Ahlers employees are trained in a specific training center, receive special certificates for loading and unloading operations, and require recurrent mandatory training every three years.
According to the UN classification, dangerous goods are divided into 9 classes that determine the properties of materials. Each of the classes has subclasses that specify the features of the cargo. Ahlers mainly works with the 3rd hazard class, namely with flammable liquids.
In our case, they are paints and varnish products based on organic solvents (enamels, wood processing compositions, solvents, acetones, etc. These are combustible, flammable liquids and their mixtures (including liquids with solids in suspension or solution), which are characterized by flammable vapors emission. Therefore, all flammable liquids are packed in sealed metal containers and additional shipping packaging (cardboard boxes).
At the same time, special attention must be paid to the quality and ways of wagons loaded by the shipper. Dangerous goods are only loaded in wagons, which by their design, purpose, and technical conditions are suitable for the safe and secure transportation of specific dangerous goods.
It is also necessary to have documentation confirming the classification of the carried dangerous goods, documents on the conditions for their safe transportation, and an emergency card. Furthermore, packaging kits used need to comply with the requirements of standards or technical specifications for specific dangerous goods.
Dangerous goods are unloaded by Ahlers only on designated warehouse railway berths. Places, intended to produce loading and unloading operations with dangerous goods, are equipped with special equipment and devices for safe handling. Particular attention is paid to fire extinguishing equipment and electric lighting with fittings and lamps in explosion-proof and fireproof design.
The warehouse employees’ professionalism and attentiveness is critical and the most important part of the operation. A case was once encountered when during the examination of the railway wagons, before opening and unloading the cargo, an enamel leakage was discovered. The wagon was securely fastened on both sides with brake shoes, warning signs were installed next to the unloading operation.
The incident was reported to the shipper, to whom Ahlers provides services for the storage and processing of goods. After opening and discharging part of the shipment, we discovered that the violation of the container’s leakage was due to the squeezing of several enamel cans that stood at the rear end.
A detailed incident report was drawn up with a description and pictures, the goods were unloaded and processed in compliance with all safety guidelines.
Such situations are quite rare, usually, they happen when a wagon hits another wagon upon maneuvering, lowering, or coupling at railway stations along the route. In such cases, after unloading, the wagon is completely cleaned from the remnants of the cushioning material, and wooden struts that fix the rows with the cargo, all danger signs are removed from the wagon and the wagon is sent with an accompanying notice for washing.
It is important to note that the knowledge and experience gained by Ahlers employees while working with dangerous goods at the warehouse in Chelyabinsk were useful, and the team successfully used this best practice when starting up and training employees at the new warehouse in Novosibirsk in 2017 as well as in Saint Petersburg in 2022.
At Ahlers we always ensure our workers have the training and supervision they need to operate safely with and around hazardous substances.