The Importance of Hazmat Employees Knowing Technical Terms

technical termsThe English language has hundreds of thousands of unique words, which give speakers a wide variety of ways to describe the same idea. However, there is little room for leeway in hazmat regulations compliance. Any ambiguity may result in confusion that could lead to non-compliance. That’s why the federal government and international organizations are always careful with their diction when drafting the hazardous materials regulations. They choose every single word for a specific reason, and they use very few synonyms in an attempt to avoid confusion. As you read the regulations, you need to know what every word means so you can prevent mistakes and comply to the utmost. Here is some information on the importance of knowing technical terms.

What Are Technical Terms?

When we write about “technical terms,” we refer to the jargon used by people who work with hazmat, whether through research, regulation, or transport. As you can see from 49 CFR §171.8, regulations may codify specific definitions for certain technical terms. Any time such a term is mentioned in the regulations, it is used with that one meaning (unless otherwise specified). As a hazmat employee, remembering these definitions is part of your job.

Here is an example of why you need to know these technical terms: can you tell the difference between a package and a packaging? There is one and the two cannot be used interchangeably. The term “package” is defined as “a packaging plus its contents.” So then what is packaging? “A receptacle and any other components or materials necessary for the receptacle to perform its containment function.” While preparing shipments of dangerous goods/hazardous materials by any mode of transport, there are many key terms that come into play to be able to either communicate information and/or prepare a shipment.

Clearing Up Any Confusion

The difference between packages and packagings is only one question that regulations strive to answer regarding this matter. Dare to compare the following technical terms:

    • Per regulations, the gross mass of a package is “the weight of a packaging plus the weight of its contents.” Meanwhile, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) defines net mass as “the weight of the contents in a packaging.” The difference is that net mass does not include the weight of the packaging, while gross mass does.
    • An outside package is a synonym for “package.” It is not a synonym for outer packaging, which is “the outermost enclosure of a composite or combination packaging together with any … components necessary to contain and protect inner receptacles or inner packagings.” Then there is the strong outer packaging: “the outermost enclosure that provides protection against the unintentional release of its contents.”
    • A technical name is “a recognized chemical name or microbiological name currently used in scientific and technical handbooks, journals, and texts.” A proper shipping name is the name of a hazardous material based on the table in 49 CFR §172.101. The technical name can be used as the proper shipping name. However, if the material’s chemical and microbiological names are unknown to the shipper, they can use alternative methods for assigning a proper shipping name.

Both words in each of these pairs may sound synonymous to the novice professional, but their definitions may have significant wrinkles that differentiate them from each other. The codifying of the use of technical terms with consistent definitions leaves less room for interpretation and mistakes. If you make the effort to understand those differences and remember each term’s specific definition, you will find it easier to comply with regulations.

Brush Up on Technical Terms with Online Hazmat Training

Hazmat University’s online hazmat training programs can teach you everything you need to know about regulations compliance. That includes technical terms with definitions straight from 49 CFR §171.8, as well as Chapter 1.2 of the IMDG Code and Appendix A of the IATA DGR. The terms described here represent a small sample of the many terms we discuss. Start familiarizing yourself with them by beginning your training today.