The Latest Developments in International DG Regulations

It’s been an incredibly busy last six weeks in the realm of international regulatory development. The beginning of November saw the ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel wrap up its 24th biennium, putting the final changes in place for the 2017-2018 ICAO Technical Instructions and tackling the very difficult subject of whether or not a prohibition on lithium batteries was warranted. Then two weeks later, the UN Sub-committee of Experts in the transportation of Dangerous Goods met. That group is in the middle of its biennium cycle, developing the content for the 20th edition of UN Model regulations which will form the content for the various modal Dangerous Goods including the 2019-2020 ICAO Technical Instructions. This time, I also took advantage of the Dangerous Goods Advisory Council’s advisor status to ECOSOC and spent three days listing to the Global Harmonization System experts work on the 7th edition of what, I discovered, they refer to as the purple book. Coincidentally, users of the ICAO TI refer to that publication as the purple book. Perhaps a case of too much harmonization…

So all in all, a very busy month! The most important piece of news is that the report of the ICAO DGP meeting is already out. It can be found here.

ICAO Technical Instructions

This includes all the agreed changes to the ICAO Technical Instructions and these will be included in the 2017 Technical Instructions. Mostly these reflect changes made by the UN but there are a couple of important items to highlight: competency-based training and lithium ion batteries.

Competency-Based Training (CBT)

I highlight this because it has the potential to affect day-to-day Dangerous Goods operations. I say potential because no one seems to be exactly clear on just how this training methodology will actual affect shippers and manufacturers. Training, after all, is applied by national legislation. Airline operators are already applying competency based methods but not so other modes and other elements of the Dangerous Goods transportation chain. Clearly having multiple training schemes/requirements is not in the interest neither of safety nor efficiency, so as CBT becomes more the norm in the air mode, industry should careful monitor how, when, where and why it’s being implemented.

Lithium Batteries

There were two very significant proposals before the Dangerous Goods Panel (DGP). One proposed the elimination of what are known as Section II batteries, this is an exemption from several parts of the regulations for very small batteries. The second was a prohibition on all lithium ion batteries on board passanger aircraft. A blog such as this is not the place to go into a detailed analysis of the arguments for and against these proposals. Suffice to say, several risk analyses have indictated that the carriage of these items falls well within the meaning of Safe Tranport of Dangerous Goods and an outright prohibition was not warranted. However, the Panel agreed that it is always prudent to adopt mitigating actions where possible and agreed that lithium ion batteries should be carried at a 30% or less state of charge — a parameter which the battery industry indicated was achievable, although it would take some months to implement.

With respect to Section II consigments, the issue being addressed was that this provision, as currently written, allowed very large consignments of these batteries on board aircraft with few controls. DGP has put in place several measures which will restrict Section II consignments to effectively one-off shipments of replacement batteries.

The ICAO DGP decided that their decisions on lithium batteries merited implementation as soon as was feasible, rather than in November 2016 when the next edition of the Technical Instructions would be published. The battery industry expressed concern that these amendments had wide ranging implications and that there were collateral and consequential regulatory requirements which would be required. Despite all due diligence, it would take several months to amend the global logistics chain to follow the new standards. It is this commentator’s view that some measure of pragmatism is an essential element in implementing new requirements. Indeed, ICAO has addressed this difficulty in the past. At the time of writing, the actual date of coming into force, i.e., publication by ICAO, is not known. That decision rests with the ICAO’s Council and is expected sometime in January. Sources indicate that an April 1st implementation is expected.

 

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