You know that you are a true compliance professional (or maybe geek?) if you sit at home and start to wonder which regulations you are violating, by just being you. I had one of those moments just recently: I ordered 2 extra batteries for my camera, because I do like to take pictures, and I don’t want to be faced with a situation where I see the perfect shot, and then I have a dead battery. So like a lot of us, I did what comes naturally today - I browsed the internet, found a great price on a double pack of the right battery, and without thinking, simply clicked on “Buy”. Done. All I had to do was to wait for these batteries to show up in my mailbox, and I was set.
The day came, and the batteries arrived, no problem. I happily opened the envelope, and pulled out two brand new batteries, just as ordered, just as I wanted. And then it hit me - these are lithium-ion batteries, shipped to me via the USPS. I looked at them, and the DG "geek" in me came through and thought: are these packed correctly, according to the regulations? What about the shipping papers? And marks or labels?
Well, let's hold up a moment. This is not a commercial shipment, this is only a mail shipment, so the DG regulations do not apply here, right? No, the regular DG regulations do not apply, but here in the US, the USPS Publication 52 takes care of the DG shipments via the US Postal Service.
And I am sure that other postal organizations around the world have similar regulations in place, so this is not only my problem here in the US, but this could be applicable to a lot of folks around the planet. And of all these regulations have something in there regarding lithium-ion batteries.
Now, I started looking more closely at what I received, and the little box or carton that contained the battery does not give any indication, what kind of battery is inside, HMM?
Looking at the battery, at first, I could not find any indication of what kind of battery this was until I found underneath the recycle symbol the words lithium-ion. Great, I really did get what I ordered, what a relief. But I am still bothered by the way these batteries arrived here. So, what do the postal regulations say about shipping lithium-ion batteries through the mail? Well, first off, the good news, these batteries are permitted to be shipped via USPS, great, no violation here. But, reading the postal regulations further, I ran across some disturbing reading. Let me quote from the regulations here:
(1) The lithium-ion cells and batteries must be mailed in “the originally sealed packaging”
(2) The sealed packages of batteries must be separated and cushioned to prevent short circuit, movement, or damage
(3) The shipment must be cushioned to prevent movement or damage, and must be contained in rigid outer packaging, sealed and strong enough to prevent crushing of the package or exposure of the contents during normal handling in the mail
(4) Unless both mailed from and intended for delivery to, the state of Alaska under 349.222d(7), mailpieces must be sent by surface transportation only
(5) The mailpiece must not exceed 5 pounds
(6) Mailpieces must display a DOT-approved lithium battery mark on the address side, in addition to the text “Surface Mail Only, Secondary Lithium Batteries — Forbidden for Transportation Aboard Passenger Aircraft” or “Surface Mail Only, Lithium-Ion Batteries — Forbidden for Transportation Aboard Passenger Aircraft.”
And here now are my observations from this shipment:
1. Yes, the batteries were in their original packaging, though the boxes were not “sealed” with some sort of tape or seal.
2. The batteries were in a plastic bag inside the boxes, not cushioned.
3. There was no cushioning in the envelope, and I do seriously doubt that a plastic envelope qualifies as “rigid outer packaging”, and the envelope is probably not strong enough to prevent crushing of the package either.
4. We are okay, since I do not live in Alaska.
5. This envelope was less than 1 pound, so we are okay here as well.
6. No DOT label, nor any indication of Forbidden for Transportation Aboard Passenger Aircraft.
So, my shipment definitively was in violation of the applicable DG regulations. This shipper (at least according to the web site) handled over 25,000 transactions, and I am asking myself, is this how over 25,000 shipments were put through the mail, or worse yet, given to a courier or trucking company for transport? Or was my shipment that one-time “fluke”, that slipped through (I hope so).
Do I now have to call the Postal Inspector, and report this? Probably should. Actually, Yes, I will reach out to the good folks at the USP and talk about this incident. Now the scary part here is, this is only 1 company that ships items that are regulated as Dangerous Goods, and there are many, many more companies out there that do the same.
How many of those companies are following the applicable regulations? How many are not? The consequences of non-compliance can be devastating, and we should become more aware of what we are doing, whether we are on the shipping side, or on the ordering or receiving side. This whole scenario brings another question to my mind, did I make myself liable now for potential fines, penalties or liabilities by ordering these batteries, and not give the shipper specific instructions on how these must be shipped? Not being of the legal profession, I would say no because as a consumer I expect the seller/shipper to get my items to me in a legal and expeditious way. I do not expect the normal consumer to know the ins and outs of DG shipping, as they do not have the training. And the consumer does not need DG training they do not fall under the definition of a hazmat employee, this is here in the US under the regulations in 49CFR. And if I read it correctly, the Postal regulations only reference the sender as the responsible party.
What I am trying to get at is, we need to all work together on making undeclared DG shipments a thing of the past.
Even if we are talking just 1 shipment of camera batteries, or a spare rechargeable battery for the power tool we are sending (or ordering) - if you see something, say something. Only this way can we make the transportation chain safe from undeclared, or mis-declared DG shipments.