TD108: 4 Reasons Truckers Get The Hazmat Endorsement

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I was hammering through a bunch of past episodes of The Trucking Podcast when Buck said something I’ve heard at least 847 times before, “The Hazardous Materials endorsement just isn’t worth it any more.” Okay, that may not have been his exact quote, but it was something like that. So is that true?

Is it worth it to go through the hassle of calling the TSA (1-855-347-8371), finding a fingerprinting location, setting up an appointment, getting your fingers scanned, letting the FBI run your prints and do a background check, pass a written test, and pay $86.50 (at the time of this writing), all for the privilege of being able to haul hazardous materials? And then you get to do it all over again every 5 years?

Well first off, let me start by saying that I’m not singling out Buck. His comment is just what spawned the idea for this blog post. I totally respect Buck’s opinions and insights into the trucking industry. And the more I listen to The Trucking Podcast, the more I realize how truly ill-informed I am of this industry that I’ve been a part of for almost 18 years.

I doubt Buck would claim to be an “expert” in the field, but he’s a regular Stephen Hawking compared to me. I mainly chalk that up to the fact that he likes learning about the industry because he actually enjoys trucking. I, on the other hand, like it about as much as I’d enjoy sipping on a literal Bloody Mary. To me, this is just a job. I have no desire to learn more about it than is absolutely necessary.

So having said that, I don’t think anyone can make a blanket statement about having a Hazardous Materials endorsement (Hazmat). There are just too many different situations to consider. Let’s look at a few of the reasons a driver might want to get the Hazmat endorsement.

1. Not having a Hazmat endorsement might keep you from getting a job

I imagine that the vast majority of current CDL holders studied for and passed the hazmat exam while in truck driving school. I expect the schools have you do this because it makes new drivers more attractive to employers. This in turn, jacks up the reputation of the truck driving school. “Hey! Look at us! 100% of our students find jobs within one week of graduating! Aren’t we awesome!” Yeah. Maybe you’re awesome. Or maybe it’s because the industry is so desperate for drivers that they would hire Helen Keller if she walked through the door.

I know back in 1997 when all the trucking recruiters were coming to our driving school, every single one of them needed you to have the Hazmat endorsement in order to hire you. Now I doubt that’s the case anymore, because it just doesn’t seem like nearly as many carriers are requiring it. I considered calling a few companies and driving schools to verify my suspicions, but in the end that would’ve been like actual research, that quite frankly, I just didn’t feel like doing.

So my advice to newbies is to get your Hazardous Materials endorsement when you first get your CDL, even if the school you’re attending doesn’t require it. As a rookie with no experience, you already have fewer options to chose from. Don’t let the best job you have available escape simply because you didn’t want to jump through a few hazmat-fueled flaming hoops. Just get it. And if you find you don’t need it later, just don’t renew it. Or maybe you’ll have to…

2. The DMV might require you to have the Hazmat endorsement

Recently, I found a local job that would let me sleep in my own bed seven days a week. And it paid more than my OTR (Over-The-Road) job! I knew these jobs existed; one had just never popped up in my neck of the woods. That’s probably because I live so far out in the sticks that we don’t have roads. But guess what? The job was pulling fuel tankers. The problem? I didn’t have my Tanker endorsement.

Now as luck would have it, I talked to the recruiter on a Friday and told him I’d have the Tanker endorsement on my license by Monday when he read my résumé and cover letter. I just so happened to be delivering in Joplin, Missouri just before I went home, so I dropped my trailer at the customer and bobtailed over to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles).

But guess what? After I passed the written Tanker endorsement test, the Trooper said, “Do you have your Hazmat endorsement? ‘Cuz you’re gonna need it to get the Tanker endorsement.” As Ace Ventura would say“Reheheheheheeeee-lly!” Since when? Since recently.

Apparently, the great state of Missouri decided that the two endorsements were to be combined. Well, sort of. You can have the Hazmat endorsement without the Tanker endorsement, but you cannot have the Tanker without the Hazmat. No idea why and neither did anyone at the ever-so-friendly and helpful DMV. Call that one a shocker.

Even weirder, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to be hauling milk or flour. If it’s in a tanker trailer, you have to possess the Hazmat/Tanker combo endorsement. At least in my screwed-up state anyway. Hey Missouri! “Show Me” some me reasoning behind this!

Well, as luck would have it, I already have my Hazmat endorsement so I was in the clear. Although the Trooper thought they might need a current record of me passing the Hazmat test. Bummer. So to avoid waiting in a long DMV line, only to be rejected back to the testing room, I sat down for another round of testing. Well, I’m happy to say that I passed with flying colors. Unhappily, that means if I can pass a hazmat test without studying a lick, then I’ve been driving a truck for waaaaay too long. Oh well. It be what it be.

The point here is that if I didn’t already have my Hazmat endorsement, my résumé might’ve been tossed into File 13 before I even had a chance at the job. Before 9-11, this wouldn’t have been any big deal. Take the written hazmat test, pay the fee to add it to your license, and be done with it. But now that the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) have their fingers all up in your junk, it can take up to 30 days to get approved for a Hazmat endorsement. Find out the complete process to obtain your Hazmat endorsement here.

And for the record, I didn’t get the job. I found out afterward that another driver had been talking to a regional manager with the company for over a year, so he was pretty much a shoe-in. Now I’m not wishing any ill-will on anyone, but… oh who am I kidding. I hope he’s a lazy sack of crap that gets fired in the first month! You’ve got my number, Mr. Recruiter! Call me!

3. You could get more loads with a Hazmat endorsement

I have experienced this one numerous times. You see, my company doesn’t require us to have a Hazmat endorsement, but they sure love the drivers who do. I recall many times getting a call from dispatch asking if I had my Hazmat endorsement. “Yepper. Why?” “‘Cuz we need you to cover for another driver who doesn’t have one.” Sometimes this even meant extra deadhead miles!

So, great. The Hazmat-holder gets the worm (I think I screwed up that idiom). But put yourself in the position of the other driver. He was all set to take a load. He started his 14-hour clock and now it’s ticking away because he couldn’t cover the load. I would say I feel sorry for him, but I’m far too busy driving down the road with his load. Yes, my compassion for humanity never ends.

But guess what, there’s an even bigger benefit of me having the Hazmat endorsement…

4. You could get paid more for having a Hazmat endorsement

This is the part that I love more than getting a scalp massage from The Evil Overlord, which I believe I last felt somewhere around the turn of the century. My company pays me 1¢ more per mile for having a Hazmat endorsement. But the even more important fact is that this penny pay raise is for all miles run, even if I’m not hauling a hazmat load.

And here’s the real kicker; I can take off one sock and count the number of hazmat loads I pull in any given year. Heck, I could even lose a couple of toes in a freak rhinoceros stampede and still count high enough! And even on those loads, often times the quantity of hazmat is so low that placards aren’t even needed.

Now you still might be thinking that it isn’t worth the hassle of getting your Hazmat endorsement. Let’s do the math. The TSA fee will run you $86.50 (at the time of this writing), and let’s add on a few extra bucks for gas getting to the appointment, your time wasted, license renewal fees, etc. So now we’re up to, say, $150. But let’s not forget, that’s every 5 years.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 8.44.21 PMNow let’s figure up how much extra I can make in five years by keeping my Hazmat endorsement intact. According to my last pay stub of 2014, I made an extra $1,258.84 last year. At a penny per mile, I guess that means I drove 125,884 miles. And to think my mother-in-law falls asleep on the 30-minute drive into Walmart. Ah, but wait. We’ve got to compare apples to apples here. The hazmat cost is every five years. If I average the same mileage for the next five years, I will have made $6,294.20.

So is it worth it to have your Hazmat endorsement anymore? Well, maybe you’ve got a crystal ball or you’ve chopped off the head off a live chicken and you are 100% certain that you won’t need your Hazmat endorsement in the near future. Or maybe your company doesn’t pay you extra for having a Hazmat endorsement. If either of these is the case, then by all means, save the 150 bucks. But for me, I’m going to harken back to elementary math class with this simple equation:

$6,294.20 > $150

(Or is that the other way around? That symbol always screws me up.)


Additional links from the podcast version:

This is the last announcement for the Trucker Country CD by Erich McMcann. Enter to win 1 of 3 free copies by sending an email to TruckerDump@gmail.com with the subject line: Trucker Music. I DO NOT need your physical address at this time.

Freightliner’s new Inspiration is the first licensed autonomous big rig in the U.S. Link includes a video demonstration.

The Trucking Podcast with Buck and Don is a great podcast that covers trucking and non-trucking stuff. This father-son duo have a lot of laughs, so if you aren’t listening yet, click the link and start doing so.

How to get your Hazmat Endorsement and what the fees cover.

I do a brief Ace Ventura imitation… really poorly.

Missouri is the Show Me state

If you don’t know what a hazmat placard is, well… you will in a second.

In the feedback section:

After much knashing of teeth and numerous recording devices, Greg sends in an audio clip about super truckers. Afterward, I wonder if other drivers consider me a super trucker due to the way I drive on snow-packed roads.

Michael Jackson (no, not that one… he’s dead) listened to TD97: A Trucker’s Worst Nemisis: Complacency and TD104: Complacency Strikes and writes in to tell us about his squirrely truck.

And lastly, 19-year veteran trucker Sam writes in and we have a discussion about driver complacency, driving in the oil fields, and going the speed limit. Afterward I start whining about how much work it takes to do this podcast. Surprise, surprise.

Sam also makes fun of my singing, so I point to a video of a much-younger me rocking some Led Zeppelin (WARNING: Explicit language) and some more recent (and much worse) singing I’ve done over at SingSnap.com

You can email your comments, suggestions, questions, or insults to TruckerDump@gmail.com

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TD37: Typing Mad At The TSA

Okay. I admit it. I just lost my cool. But this time, I’m not apologizing for it. I’ve been known to snap at people now and then. If I realized that I was wrong, I’d sometimes feel guilty (not always) and apologize to the person who got snapped at… unless it’s The Evil Overlord of course. Never admit to your spouse that you were wrong about anything. So here’s how it went down.

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Let me start by saying that I’m not having a good day. I woke up with The Evil Overlord ripping the covers off me and telling me that she didn’t make good time. She insisted I figure up our average. This happens on a regular basis (the insisting and the making bad time, not the cover-ripping), so I don’t blame her for my venom-spitting attitude. You might ask, “What’s an average?” What we mean, is the mile per hour that we have to “average” in order to deliver on time. I divide the total miles left on the trip, by the number of hours that we have to do it. That determines whether we eat fast food, or if we have time to eat healthier. Sometimes math and mornings just don’t mix. This cheery morning, the average came out to 83 mph. Uh-oh. Thus the crappy attitude ensues.

We are on yet another hot load, this time from Indianapolis, IN to Oakland, CA. Like I said, it was a hot load, but I really didn’t think we were doing that poorly on this particular trip. We weren’t. You see, there’s these things called time zones. I’ve been dealing with time zones for 13 years now, and every so often one jumps up to kick me square in the teeth. It turns out that California is on Pacific time, which is two hours behind the Central time zone that we run on. BEHIND, Todd, BEHIND!! I had figured it two hours AHEAD. So instead of 83 mph, we really only had to average 35 mph. Of course I didn’t realize this until I sped all the way across Donner Pass and got into Sacramento. Once I realized my mistake, my mood got worse. Sure, we’d be on time now, but what kind of an idiot makes a mistake like that? Don’t answer that.

Now I arrive at the receiver. I’ll not name names, but I’ve been here before, so I know the procedure. The last time I was here, the guard shack asked if I had a co-driver. Since I did, they wanted to see The Evil Overlord’s driver’s license. Now I’d rather punch a mafia warlord in the gonads than reach my hand into The Evil Overlord’s purse, so I had to wake her up to find her ID. I always hate waking her up, and she wasn’t overly pleased with me, but hey, a couple of black eyes is the price you have to pay sometimes. Anyway, this time I was fully prepared.

Before we even got to the receiver, I already had The Evil Overlord’s ID in hand. I was feeling pretty smug for remembering to ask her while she was still awake. I pull up and the woman at the guard shack asks for my paperwork. No problem, here you go. Then she asks me for my ID. Happy to oblige. Next she asks, “Do you have anyone in the back.” Yes, I do. I handed her The Evil Overlord’s ID before she could even ask for it. That’s when it happened. The guard shack Nazi told me she needed to see my co-driver’s face.

I admit. I snapped. “Oh, c’mon! That’s bull#*@%!!! I didn’t have to wake her up the last time I was here!” It all went downhill from there. Hitler grabbed the phone and slammed the window shut like I was holding a flamethrower to her head. I was good and pissed by then, so I hollered back and told The Evil Overlord that they needed to see her face. After some cussing, she put some clothes on and stuck her grouchy-looking face out through the curtain. I tried to get the guard’s attention to tell her that my co-driver’s face was now visible. She didn’t respond, so I honked the little horn (not the big air horn). That’s when four more guards rounded the corner in a hurry and stepped into the guard shack.

I overheard Hitler say that I was cussing and calling her names. When one of the other guards asked if that was true, I admitted what I had said, but denied calling her any names. Naturally, she said I was lying. That didn’t help my mood either. Then the other guard asked me what the problem was. And here is the crux of it… and the reason I’m not apologizing to anyone.

When your co-driver is sleeping, they shouldn’t be disturbed. One of these days, the people of this great nation are going to have to realize that they can’t have safe roads AND sleepy truck drivers. This goes for waking drivers up in the middle of their sleep, as well as the many no-idling policies that are becoming law across the nation. I said as much to the guard.

He said that it was a TSA rule that both drivers must physically present themselves. I truthfully told him, “That wasn’t the rules the last time I came here.” He doubted me as I went on to say that I had never been asked to wake my co-driver up at ANY of their other facilities throughout the country. In fact, I had never even been asked to produce a co-driver’s ID before. I had been asked for her ID at a pick up location, but never a receiver. Keep in mind that I have been truck driving for 13 years, and have delivered to this particular unnamed company on and off throughout the years. Now, why would I get so cheesed about all this if every facility asked for an ID and an Evil Overlord sighting? I wouldn’t. Actually, I wouldn’t still be trucking if that were the case.

The guard reiterated to me that it was a TSA rule that had to be followed. I pointed out that the DOT has rules that I must follow, too. A driver’s log book is a federal document that is legally binding in every way. Lawyers produce these suckers in a court of law when they want to prove what a driver was up to on any given day. So, in disrupting The Evil Overlord’s sleep, I had two choices. I could log it as such, and she would have to start her 10-hour rest period over, or I could ignore that it happened and falsify my log books. I’ll let you decide which I did. Still, the point is, I’ve got rules to follow too.

I told the guard that waking up a sleeping co-driver would be like bringing the cops by his house at 3 a.m., knocking on his door, and telling him that they needed his wife to get out of bed and present herself at the front door. I went on to say, “What the heck do you think my wife is going to do in here? Run around naked with a bomb strapped to her back?” That did get a laugh out of him and things started to get calmer.

Here’s a couple more points to prove how stupid all of this is. All the loading docks were within plain sight of the guard shack. Really, what was I going to do right there in plain sight? Furthermore, all they wanted The Evil Overlord to do, was stick her head out from behind the curtain. What does that really accomplish? For all they knew, I had four psychotic terrorists wearing C-4 laden underwear back there.

Anyway, I eventually got my paperwork back and prepared to enter the gate. I turned my ignition switch and… nothing. Five minutes later and a couple of taps on the starter, the old bitch finally turned over. So, it looks like this worthless pile of rhinoceros dung is going back into the shop for the sixth time. The air conditioning still isn’t fixed and our starting issues still aren’t worked out. THE SIXTH TIME!! Oh yeah. I see my mood getting better aaaaany minute now.

Well, I suppose there is one thing that I should be thankful for. I finally got a blog post out. Maybe I should get pissed more often. It seems that being all red-faced and buggy-eyed makes me type faster than a squirrel on crack.

Photo by Will Imholte via Flickr

TD27: Hauling Hazardous Materials

Wow. What a great title. I put soooo much thought into that. Hazardous Materials, or HazMat for short is part of the big, bad, scary side of trucking. Or is it? What are Hazardous Materials, what does it take to haul them, and how dangerous are they?

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First, the technical definition. A Hazardous Material is a substance or material which has been determined by the Secretary of Transportation to be capable of posing an unreasonable risk to health, safety, and property when transported in commerce, and which has been so designated. The term includes hazardous substances, hazardous wastes, marine pollutants, and elevated temperature materials.

Now Todd’s special definition. Hazardous Materials are products that are more dangerous to haul than regular freight, but you’ll probably never notice.

How’s that for short and sweet? Truly, the hardest part about hauling HazMat is getting your HazMat endorsement tacked onto your CDL (Commercial Drivers License). Before 9-11, you could obtain a HazMat endorsement simply by taking a short written test. In todays world of terrorist activity, the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA (yes, the same people who confiscate your fingernail clippers at the airport) requires a driver to go through an FBI background check and fingerprinting before you are able to take the written test.

Other than that, hauling HazMat doesn’t take much extra effort; at least not for the average trucker. You see, most of the really dangerous stuff is hauled by carriers who specialize in that particular hazardous material. Since that’s usually all that they haul, those drivers receive specialized training from their company.

So who’s responsible for what? In short, shippers are responsible for packaging and labeling the product, preparing certified shipping papers, providing emergency response information, and supplying the proper placards to the driver. Placards are those pretty little signs that are required on all four sides of the trailer. There are nine classes of HazMat, plus one extra, all of which get their own placard.

  1. Explosives
  2. Gases
  3. Flammable and Combustible Liquids
  4. Flammable Solids
  5. Oxidizers
  6. Poisons
  7. Radioactives
  8. Corrosives
  9. Miscellaneous
  10. ORM-D (other regulated materials-domestic)

I won’t go into details on these because it’s nearly as boring as watching a PC boot up. Ooo. Low blow by the Apple fan boy. If you still want all the gory details, click here. But please, go get some friends afterward.

The carrier (trucking company) responsibility is to double check the shippers paperwork, refuse any improper shipments, and report any accidents or incidents to the proper authorities.

The driver’s responsibility lays in double checking HazMat labels and markings, refusing damaged or incorrect product, putting placards on the trailer, insuring proper blocking and bracing of the product, safely transporting the product, and keeping the shipping papers and emergency response information in the proper place, which is in the drivers side door or in the drivers seat when out of the truck. For more details on each parties responsibilities, click here, you glutton for punishment.

Now that may sound like a lot to know and remember, but in reality, average truckers like myself have very little knowledge of specific hazardous materials. There are simply too many different types, guidelines, and combinations to memorize. Instead, we are issued HazMat guide books by our companies and taught how to use them. So here’s how it actually works.

You arrive at a shipper and they load your trailer. Although the shipper is not officially responsible for loading the trailer, in my 12-year career I have never loaded any HazMat and don’t ever expect to. Once loaded, the shipper tells you there is HazMat on the load and supplies you with the correct placards. Before I close my trailer doors, I look inside to make sure that nothing looks like it will move around or fall over. Let me take a tangent here.

Although it is officially my responsibility as the driver, I rarely look to see if the product is marked correctly.  For one thing, I can’t open every container or unstack pallets to verify that sort of thing. Secondly, the shipper has given me a certified shipping paper that states that they know what the heck they are doing. They know far more about this stuff than I do, so I’ll just take their word for it. It would be like questioning your IT guy at work.  If the stinking printer starts working, don’t try to verify how it was done. Just give him a manly slap on the buttocks and thank the good Lord above. On second thought, maybe you better leave the butt slapping to the NFL.

Back to the process. After I close my trailer doors, I put the supplied placards on all four sides of the trailer. That is, if they are required. Loads with of very little amounts of certain kinds of HazMat don’t require any placarding. How would I know? Here comes the company supplied HazMat handbook.

Every hazardous material is assigned a number. For instance, paint is UN-1263. That number is required on my shipping papers. I look up that number in my guide book and it tells me what the product is, what type of placards I need (if any), and how to deal with an emergency. What I like to do is put a bookmark in that page and store the book in the drivers side door alongside the shipping papers. That way everything is in easy reach if something horrible happens.

The actual transporting of the product has a few small hassles. For one, all placarded loads must come to a complete stop before crossing any railroad tracks. So please quit cussing the poor driver who keeps stopping on that back road with a million railroad crossings. An even bigger hassle is routing.

There are many tunnels across this great nation of ours that won’t allow HazMat loads. For instance, I-76 in Pennsylvania has a few and Eisenhower Tunnel just west of Denver on I-70 is a real doozy. Since you can’t take HazMat through Eisenhower, you are forced to take US 6 over Loveland Pass, which just so happens to be an 11,990-foot-high goat path full of sheer drop-offs and switchbacks that force you to use both lanes. It’s tolerable in decent weather, but I’d rather get rammed in the groin by said goat than drive it with snow on the ground. Been there, done that. Trust me that it will NEVER happen again.

Another issue with routing is with route restrictions. Cities all across America have certain routes that you must take around or through their city. Cops love to issue tickets for ignoring their signs.

These routing problems aren’t much of a problem for an experienced driver. We know were these places are and can usually avoid them quite easily. It’s the newbie driver that has to watch out. If you don’t know about those tunnels in Pennsylvania and Colorado, you could be in for a lot of extra miles trying to find an alternate route.

To sum up, HazMat scares more people than it should. Sure, every now and then we hear about the big HazMat spill that shut down the highway for hours and hours. I, myself, had one minor HazMat spill which held me up for an entire hour. Accidents happen. However, the vast majority of these HazMat loads get delivered without incident.

And many of these HazMat loads just shouldn’t be feared at all. I mean, really. Who could possibly be afraid of a load of hairspray? Although I suppose a highjacking by a spandex-clad, 80’s glam metal band might be kinda scary…

Photo by V&A Steamworks via Flickr