Last reviewed 26 February 2016

In this article, Desmond Waight reflects on what was observed during the two days in early February that he spent out with the Hampshire Police lead officer on the enforcement of dangerous goods carriage issues, and the differences between what one might expect is required (the theory) and what was found in practice.


For two days in February, I went out in a marked (very!) police car with the lead police officer for dangerous goods enforcement (and a qualified Dangerous Goods Safety Adviser (DGSA)) with the intent to carry out entirely random inspections of dangerous goods vehicles.

Whether a vehicle was picked depended entirely on whether it happened to pass the place on the motorway where we sat until the next dangerous goods vehicle of a type to be inspected went past.

This article records some of the issues that we found and discussed during the day, but that did not result in any specific enforcement actions but show perhaps how the theory and the practice do not always tie up.

It does not include some of the regular enforcement issues — including fire extinguishers that were out of date that were found — but concentrates on some specific general issues.

However, before moving on to specifics, it was interesting to note that many of the drivers stated that they had not been inspected for quite a long time (more than five years) and were in a general way very pleased that inspections were being carried out. The author of this article would like to record here his appreciation of how co-operative and pleasant they were (even when some minor, but enforceable issues were found).

Non-required placards

The first vehicle was pulled because at the rear it showed a Class 2 placard, but none on the sides and no orange plates (normally for the road, the two are required). However, there were no dangerous goods on board — which included carbonated beverages (gases dissolved in liquids) — that are exempted from the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR). This leads to a discussion as to whether or not ADR does (indeed can) actually ban the display of placards on vehicles not carrying dangerous goods.

As an aside, the author remembers the 1980s when the rules required the display but said nothing about removal. This led to vehicles bearing a placard for every Class (including Class 1 and 7) on the front bumpers and at the rear. This was not liked by the emergency services.

ADR at says “Placards which do not relate to the dangerous goods being carried, or residues thereof, shall be removed or covered”.

This clearly means a tanker that had UN1230 METHANOL (Class 3 and 6.1 placards) but is now only carrying UN1993 FLAMMABLE LIQUID N.O.S. (Class 3) shall have the 6.1 placards removed or covered.

However, as written in ADR, this arguably does not prevent the display of placards on a vehicle actually carrying dangerous goods.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Manual on the Carriage of Dangerous Goods (CDG) in its Enforcement Guidance for Common Offences showed (at the time of the inspection) that:

Plates/placards when not needed

ADR reference



Empty and cleaned but orange plates/class placards displayed.

Written report

Remedy by having markings removed or covered

However, this is Risk Category 3, the lowest category requiring any form of enforcement action. Accordingly, a report was handed to the driver to take back to the company advising him or her of the HSE position. The issue of the meaning of the wording of ADR has been discussed recently by the ADR WP.15 committee and the Department for Transport (DfT) advised about the interpretation of the wording.

Transport documentation

Another common issue is that many of the drivers when asked for transport documentation handed over several sheets, which often made it very difficult to see whether the ADR requirement in to provide the total quantity of each UN number was being complied with. For example, one petrol tanker had the original load showing on the first page, but only looking further into the sheaf was it indicated by simple pencil marks in columns that the tanker was indeed empty and uncleaned. Had a crash occurred and the driver been unable to assist (and the tanker had rolled onto its side covering the tank gauges), it would have taken some time for this important information to be determined.

In another case, a transport document of a vehicle carrying a lot of flammable gas cylinders showed details of both the outward load (of full cylinders) and the return load of what were described as “empties”, but without the required wording in the right place in the dangerous goods description. Again, if an accident had occurred with cylinders strewn all over the road (as has happened) and the driver was unable to help, then a lot of unnecessary extra precautions and time would have been spent looking for cylinders that were not actually on the vehicle. Again, this was pointed out in a written report handed to the driver and subsequently sent to the company by the police.

Tanker placards design

It was also noted that a number of placards on tankers did not have an inner borderline as specified in ADR since at least 2003 (and in some cases an outer borderline).

This was brought to the attention of the driver to take up with his employers, who will also get a written advice about the issue from the police. Not a big safety issue, but if such clear and simple parts of ADR are not complied with, what is the company’s performance in respect of the more critical safety-related aspects of, eg tank construction, ullage, etc going to be?

Interestingly, post inspection research on the internet did show at least two placard suppliers whose websites clearly show placard designs without the required inner borderline (and in one case some with and some without!). These have been contacted.

However, the figure in Schedule 1 to the CDG 2009 Regulations fails to show the required solid or dotted outer borderline (although the Class 8 placard is shown in a square with a white background), even though it was the UK which successfully proposed the change to the UN Model Regulations to require such an outer line.

The DfT has been informed of this, and some other related issues, for example, the fact that for the reduced size (200mm) placard permitted in hazard warning panels it does not specify the distance the inner borderline has to be from the edge; and that, unlike now for labels, there is no minimum specification for the thickness of the inner borderline — and for the outer borderline of labels and placards, if required.

While some may say “leave such details to the practitioners”, it is worth remembering why a minimum size had to be introduced for the height of the UN number, etc (for those who do not know, this was because some practitioners had the UN number in 1.25mm high type on a 200 litre drum!).

Equipment required v suitability

ADR requires the carriage of certain equipment, including a shovel for Class 3 liquids and a collecting container. However, nowhere in ADR does it prescribe when and how these shall be used, and neither did it appear apparent to the drivers, despite having an ADR driver’s certificate.

One petrol tanker driver carrying a lightweight collapsible plastic shovel did not think that it was non-sparking and he believed it was so that roadside earth could be used to form a dike to prevent spillage from entering drains and watercourses — but also that the plastic shovel carried would be useless in most roadside situations for this purpose. Also that the collecting container (a plastic bag) had no capability to retain anything but the minutest per cent of the load he was carrying.

The theory, of course, is that the equipment would be used, but the reality is that it is merely carried because it has to be with little relevance to the actual load and quantity thereof being carried.

It was noticeable that some did carry absorbent materials suited to the liquids they are carrying (but only in amounts suitable for the smallest of leaks/spills), not because this is ADR requirement, but a requirement of a loading/unloading facility.


The theory may be great, but the practice (for example, the provision of transport documents or the use of equipment such as shovels) shows that the theory may actually need rethinking.