The purpose of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Program, first established by statute in 1974, is to identify and manage risks presented by transportation of hazardous materials in commerce. Safety is of paramount importance as the Department of Transportation seeks to involve the public, industry, and other interested parties in determining levels of risk that are acceptable, affordable, and comparable with other risks inherent in modern society.
The Office of Hazardous Materials Safety is currently instituting a risk management framework to set and guide priorities to ensure that PHMSA is a risk-based organization. PHMSA's risk management framework identifies and defines the main elements of risk management in hazardous materials transportation and is supplemented by specific methods, tools, and guidance documents.
The hazardous materials transport system is highly heterogeneous and complex. Hazardous materials transport is a chain of events involving multiple players (e.g., shippers, carriers, packaging manufacturers, container reconditioners, distributors, freight forwarders, consignees (receivers of shipment), emergency responders, government regulators, enforcement personnel) having different roles in the process of safely moving hazardous materials from their origin to their destination. There often are multiple handoffs of a material from one party to another during transport. The various parties, who range from individuals to small firms to the largest of multinational organizations, may have overlapping responsibilities for managing risks.
In addition, there are many different hazardous materials that pose a variety of hazards, such as flammability, corrosiveness, reactivity, and toxicity. Further adding to the system complexity is the fact that hazardous materials transportation encompasses several different modes of transport. Moreover, some shipments are intermodal (i.e., switch from one mode to another during transit). In many hazardous materials transport situations, there are numerous choices regarding the mode to be used and the specific route to be followed in transporting the material.
PHMSA believes that implementing a robust, systematic approach to hazardous materials transportation risk management can have at least two valuable products. First, it can identify critical areas demanding greater attention and control. Also of great value, it can identify those areas where additional controls may not be necessary. When used by DOT as a regulatory agency, a systematic approach to risk management can aid in reaching and substantiating decisions about new controls, alternative controls that may be less burdensome, or relaxation of existing regulatory controls that may be excessive.