Federal Crackdown on Hazmat Rail Shippers

saskatchewan_trainEarlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a report recommending a more aggressive enforcement of government regulations regarding rail shipment of hazardous materials. In the report, U.S. FRA’s Oversight of Hazardous Materials Shipments Lacks Comprehensive Risk Evaluation and Focus on Deterrence, the DOT was critical of the way the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) handled its enforcement efforts.

According to the report, the FRA rarely pursues civil penalties against companies who violate hazardous materials regulations. In fact, only 4 percent of violations actually resulted in any penalties. The average penalties, according to the report, settled for much less than what the agency could have imposed, approximately five cents on the dollar

The agency also rarely refers cases for further criminal investigations. In 2015, of the 1,670 hazmat violations issued by the FRA, (including 883 non-railroad hazmat transportation companies), zero violations were referred to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for prosecution. According to the report, at least 20 percent of the violations “warranted a criminal investigation” by the DOJ.

The FRA agreed with the report’s assessment and has now adopted recommendations made in the report on issues such as making it easier for FRA attorneys and inspectors to initiate criminal investigations, as well as increasing the number of fines issued and the amount of those fines.

Under the new regulations, any individual who recklessly or willfully violate federal hazardous materials regulations will now face penalties of up to 10 years in prison and/or $175,000 in fines.

Companies can also be held criminally and financially responsible for violations committed by employees. It is recommended that all employers implement a comprehensive hazmat training and compliance program, as well as have a crisis management plan in place.

Emergency Film Group offers several programs which can assist in that training, as well as training for emergency responders who may deal with unplanned hazardous materials leaks, spills or fire during the course of their work, including our Hazardous Materials: Managing the Incident Series.

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