eCommerce Insiders

Hazardous Goods: Are Healthy Profits Worth Toxic Risks?

For all of the positive attention that Amazon generates, the brand found itself generating negative attention and hefty fines totaling over a quarter of a million dollars after The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration proposed a $350,000 civil fine against, Inc.

The fine was proposed after UPS shipping workers experienced a burning sensation on their skin after handling boxes containing gallon-sized drums of the highly-caustic drain cleaner called Amazing! Liquid Fire.

Specifically, the highly-caustic, toxic liquid seeped out out its container, making contact with the boxes, and thus burning the UPS workers who were tasked with transporting the liquid. The workers were not only clueless about the content of the boxes, but they also lacked proper training on how to safely handle hazardous materials.

Hazardous materials are commonly known by their abbreviation (HAZMAT), and according to U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), HAZMAT is defined as:

A hazardous material is any item or agent (biological, chemical, radiological, and/or physical), which has the potential to cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment, either by itself or through interaction with other factors. Hazardous materials professionals are responsible for and properly qualified to manage such materials.

This includes managing and/or advising other managers on hazardous materials at any point in their life-cycle, from process planning and development of new products; through manufacture, distribution and use; and to disposal, cleanup and remediation.

In fact, HAZMAT creates risks to life that in addition the the EPA, four other U.S. government agencies regulate the manufacturing, transporting, and sales of HAZMAT, including the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Why is the FAA involved?

The FAA became involved in the Amazon HAZMAT violation suit because the caustic item that harmed UPS workers was transported on airplanes using U.S. government-regulated airspace.

In fact, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Amazon has moved further this year into the world of air freight, leasing 20 Boeing 767 aircraft from Air Transport Services Group Inc., its first major move towards building its own contract air freight fleet.

Any company that uses air transport for shipping purposes, whether privately or publicly owned, would ultimately be responsible for FAA compliance.

The FAA not only found that Amazon was in violation of shipping HAZMAT in this particular case, but also, Amazon has developed a history of HAZMAT shipping violations, as also reported by the Wall Street Journal:

In the Amazon incident, the FAA alleged that the shipment was not properly packaged, was not accompanied by a proper declaration stating the hazardous nature of its contents, and that Amazon had failed to provide emergency response information with the package and that the Amazon employees who handled it had not received proper training.

‘Amazon has a history of violating the Hazardous Materials Regulations, the agency said in a news release. From February 2013 to September 2015, Amazon was found to have violated such regulations 24 times, the FAA said, adding that the agency would continue to investigate the company’s compliance with air safety regulations.

In the case that drew the civil penalty, the FAA said the e-commerce retailer didn’t label the shipment as carrying hazardous materials and had not trained workers in proper handling of such goods.

Amazon’s response to UPS and the general public

Kelly Cheeseman, a spokeswoman for Amazon, sent an email to reporters, stating that “The company takes air cargo safety very seriously and (that) Amazon has developed sophisticated technologies to detect potential shipping hazards in the tens of millions of shipments it sends every day.”

And UPS spokesman Mike Mangeot initially declined to discuss the incident, but later rendered a short statement claiming that “Our employees were fine after receiving treatment (with a chemical wash).”

The consequences of HAZMAT aviation violations

Incidentally, Amazon has a HAZMAT compliance code in place for its FBA partners. The compliance page clearly defines HAZMAT, along with consequences to vendors who violate the company’s policy:

All FBA sellers are responsible for ensuring that their products comply with all FBA policies and any legal requirements regarding Hazmat. Even if a product is not currently rejected as Hazmat by our system, failure to comply with these policies may result in the disposal or return of inventory at your expense, the suspension of your selling privileges, or regulatory fines.

Do not assume that successfully converting a product to FBA means that that product is not Hazmat. Many products identified as Hazmat are restricted from FBA. Products that are identified as unfulfillable Hazmat upon receipt at the fulfillment center may be disposed of at your expense without reimbursement to you.

What does this mean for HAZMAT vendors?

It’s ultimately the responsibility of the HAZMAT vendor to ensure that all parties involved in their supply and delivery chain are trained on all aspects of HAZMAT compliance.

Furthermore, anyone in the supply and delivery chain who will come in contact with such material must be trained on how to handle the package containing HAZMAT in a manner that is safe and keeps the product intact inside its original container.

Are profits worth the risks?

Some vendors, especially small business owners and new FBA vendors might balk at selling HAZMAT products. However, by taking proper precautions and by adhering to compliance codes to the full letter of the law, they’ll avoid hefty fines, damaging lawsuits, and most important, threats to human and animal health.

Terri Scott

Terri is a content marketing storyteller and strategist. She teaches marketing and entrepreneurship through stories for marketers of all stripes. Her specialty is creating narrative and she writes essays and memoir in her spare time.

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