Hazardous Materials: Spills Are Ever Present Danger For Trucking and Rail Workers

Freight, rail and parcel Teamsters handle hazardous materials on a daily basis. When spills or other accidents take place, members can face serious injury or even death.

Each year there are roughly 15,000 haz-mat incidents (the industry reported 14,943 in 2004). In 2004 eight workers were killed and over 200 injured in spills or other releases of hazardous materials. Nearly 11,000 people were evacuated during incidents.

Employers face little if any penalty for failure to properly report haz-mat incidents, so the actual number is certainly much higher. UPS, for example, failed to report a number of incidents in 2004 (see page 4).
Among Teamster trucking employers, Yellow Transportation and UPS reported the most incidents in 2004, 1,100 each. Roadway reported 572; ABF, 234; and Holland, 170.

Rail Teamsters also routinely face haz-mat hazards. In 2004, Norfolk Southern reported 80 incidents; Union Pacific, 230; CSX, 118; and Burlington Northern, 131. Union Pacific had the most injuries as a result of incidents, including four reported as serious.

Deaths as a result of haz-mat incidents are frequently caused by gasoline or other petroleum products, meaning that Teamster tankhaul drivers face high risks. All eight deaths in 2004 involved petroleum.

Non-union workplaces tend to be more dangerous. That holds true in terms of hazardous material incidents. FedEx in 2004 reported nearly 6,000 incidents, over five times as many as UPS.

Kinds of Hazards
DOT reporting rules require that carriers specify the kind of material involved in an incident. Seriously dangerous chemicals appear frequently in the 2004 reports.

Benzene, for example, is a known carcinogen, as are carbon tetrachloride and formaldehyde, all of which were involved in spills in 2004.

Some materials can react violently when in contact with other substances. Ammonium nitrate, for example, has caused numerous industrial explosions when it has come in contact with acetic acid, sawdust, or hot water. Still other chemicals can cause severe respiratory damage and other health problems such as reproductive effects.

What the Law Says
OSHA regulations state that employers must have written emergency response plans. They can either train their own employees to serve as emergency response teams or contract with outside vendors who can respond quickly to spills and other incidents. Local unions have the right to review employer plans and procedures and should do so periodically.

Rights & Resources: