How to prevent 'near misses'

red shipping container with customs label

Picture this: A shipment planner (let’s call him Fred) is processing a stowage plan for a consolidated container of Dangerous Goods. Fred takes all the necessary steps, like checking for the shipment weight and size, ensuring the compatibility of the Dangerous Goods according to IMDG codes, etc. However, somewhere in the process, Fred misses one little checkpoint: the product-specific segregation requirements for Dangerous Goods. If this were checked, he would have realized that these materials should not be shipped together due to their Hazard Class.

If these goods were to mix, it could cause a dangerous chemical reaction with serious, sometimes life-threatening repercussions - lest we forget the Hanjin Pennsylvania or the MSC Flaminia.

Luckily, Fred had a second cup of coffee and remembered to check this at the last second, catching and correcting the error. Nothing bad happens, it’s only near miss, so no need for him to worry - right? WRONG.

Or how about the common complaint that I hear from SS lines again and again? Corrected bill of lading instructions are sent to the carrier after the vessel sailed because the shipper later realized that more freight was loaded into a container than initially declared. This does pose problems for the carrier if the new weight jeopardizes the stability of the vessel due to uneven weight distribution.  

Now to take this even one step further: what if the extra freight was hazardous materials? Now the scenario changes even more if this container was stowed near other incompatible hazardous materials. This is a violation of national and international regulations, and in the worst-case scenario could worsen a spill or leak into an inferno, endangering the whole ship and its crew.

dangerous goods label on drum next to pallet stacked barrels

Near misses like these scenarios should be taken very seriously and should NEVER be overlooked or dismissed. They should serve as a warning that something bad could have happened and if ignored, could probably happen in the future.

In the fast-moving chemical business, with millions of shipments moving across the globe at one time, a near miss due to documentation or misdeclaration can happen at any time - and it’s therefore very important to have the right checks in place, with accurate, real-time visibility into your supply chain. 

Let’s give our friend Fred’s story a different ending: Fred works with his hyper-observant forwarding partner, Tom, who helps Fred set up an auditing strategy, with different locked checkpoints in the process to ensure accurate documentation. If certain steps are not taken, documentation is not sent out. This helps lessen the chance of error. If near misses do occur, swift and immediate action needs to be taken to correct and report the error through the appropriate channels - like our internal First Call Protocol, which launches an investigation and leads to corrective actions to prevent near misses from becoming tomorrow’s headline news.

The chemical business is a complicated mix of risks, specifications, and international regulations. So I am proud to say that I have encountered one of these near misses here at BDP only once in a blue moon. And, that we take these near misses very seriously, and we do record them, investigate, and look for corrective action. It is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense. If we work closely with our customer, we will go the extra step and have our customer’s back, to assure that everything is done according to the regulatory requirements and do everything possible to exceed our customers' expectation.

I believe if we all do our part, the transportation of dangerous goods just might become a little safer, and near misses will not become tomorrow’s disaster. 

(So for Fred, there’s no need to worry when partnering with BDP. )