A hazmat pro’s graduation message for the Class of 2018

Graduation selfie with your fav hazclass!?! O.M.G.!!!

For the 51st consecutive year, no one from Labelmaster was asked to speak at a college or university graduation. And that’s too bad, because we feel we have important messages to share with the leaders of tomorrow. Here’s the speech we might have delivered.

Congratulations, graduates! I’m sure many of you are wondering why (name of college or university) chose me to speak at your graduation, instead of some politician, famous author or media personality.

Well, I may not work with foreign leaders or Hollywood celebrities, but I work with something that affects your life every day. I’m talking about hazardous materials, which most people just call “hazmat.” Now, how many of you are picturing me in one of those yellow bodysuits with the little plastic face shield?

That’s not what it’s about. In fact, my job is to prevent the incidents that require those suits. In the world of Dangerous Goods, our favorite statistic is “incidents that didn’t happen.” Plane crashes. Chemical spills. Workplace injuries. Explosions. You get the idea.

So what the heck does a Dangerous Goods professional actually do?

Well, first you have to understand that a lot of stuff that’s considered hazardous doesn’t sound especially dangerous. Hand sanitizer and nail polish are two classic examples—they’re both Class 3 Flammable Liquids. So there are massive volumes of federal and international regulations that say where and how you can transport all this stuff in ways that pose the least risk of a dangerous accident.

The lithium batteries in your phones? If you’ve seen some of the online videos, you understand why lithium battery regulation has been the hottest topic in Dangerous Goods for years.

So what Dangerous Goods pros like me do is help companies navigate all these regulations to ship all this stuff safely and compliantly.

How did I decide to be a Dangerous Goods professional?

Great question, because there’s a different answer from just about every DG pro you ask. I can bet none of you majored in Dangerous Goods transport, because I’ve never heard of a college that offered that kind of major.

Some DG pros start out in shipping departments and learn the regulations on their own initiative. Others pursue careers in government and get assigned to enforcement jobs with the DOT, FAA, OSHA or EPA. And there are still others who studied hard sciences in school and found themselves drawn to—or steered into—the science of getting hazardous stuff safely from point A to point B.

One of our top consultants at Labelmaster started out building crates to ship weird objects like motorcycle engines. Which are Class 9 Miscellaneous hazards, by the way.

The point is, not many people go looking for careers in Dangerous Goods. But a Dangerous Goods career might come looking for you.

So what life lessons can a Dangerous Goods professional teach you?

This is a graduation speech, so I suppose I’d better send you off with some important life lessons. Here are a few:

  • Understand that people are like hazmat classes. Some people are like Class 2 Gasses—they drift if you don’t contain them. Others are like Class 8 Corrosives—they’re irritating, and they can burn you. But just like I have to deal with Dangerous Goods, you have to deal with dangerous people. Because they’re probably good for something.
  • Hang out with people who share your passion. Every September I get together with a few hundred fellow trainers, regulators, shippers, carriers and other hazmat experts at Labelmaster’s Dangerous Goods Symposium. Getting the latest insights on your industry is a good thing. Networking with the top people in your industry is even better.
  • Make technology your ally. How many of you did your essays and term papers with a typewriter? Why would you, right? Yet more than a quarter of respondents in our survey last year said they use manual processes for hazmat documentation. Like, pencil and paper. What’s up with that?
  • Alcohol is a hazardous material. So when you celebrate later, remember it’s not just booze. It’s United Nations substance number 3065.

Congratulations once again to everyone in the Class of 2018!

Labelmaster is a full-service provider of goods and services for hazardous materials and Dangerous Goods professionals, shippers, transport operators and EH&S providers.
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