Last reviewed 22 August 2023
This feature discusses responsibilities for the transport of dangerous goods under ADR.
The UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods - Model Regulations (UNRTDG or Orange Book) outlines the steps that need to be taken to ensure the safe carriage of dangerous goods. Yet, UNRTDG, and indeed most of the international or major regional requirements that reflect the UN’s provisions, generally do not detail the responsibilities of those involved.
As such, the Experts of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) Working Party on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (WP.15) decided that ADR (in English, the Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road) needed to lay down in some detail the “safety obligations of the participants” — their responsibilities.
This is done in Chapter 1.4 of ADR. This Chapter was proposed some years ago, and, though the UK was not in favour, the Chapter was considered appropriate by a majority and duly adopted into ADR. It has remained in effect ever since, and has often been the cause of some concern to the UK.
ADR Chapter 1.4
In Chapter 1.4, ADR firstly establishes some general safety measures that are the responsibilities of participants in the carriage of dangerous goods, and then places obligations on those that ADR considers the main participants. It then follows that with a section on the obligations on many of the other parties involved in the safe transport of dangerous goods. Yet, there are some parties that play significant roles in this field that, somewhat surprisingly, are not specifically mentioned.
In many circumstances, a particular company may perform the duties of more than one participant — for example, a company may actually pack the dangerous goods as well as be the consignor of those goods. They would then be responsible for meeting multiple sets of obligations.
Chapter 1.4.1: General safety measures
Chapter 1.4 begins by specifying a general duty on all participants to “take appropriate measures according to the nature and extent of the foreseeable dangers, so as to avoid damage or injury and, if necessary, to minimise their effects.”
It then requires participants to comply with the requirements of ADR in “their respective fields” and to notify the emergency services when there is an immediate risk to public safety.
Finally, it makes provisions so that Contracting States can, in their domestic legislation, alter on whom the ADR obligations can be laid. This is subject to a requirement to report any such changes to the UN ECE Secretariat, which will advise other contracting states.
For the sake of clarity, it may be necessary to remind oneself of the definitions of the various parties covered by ADR prior to consulting Chapter 1.4.
Obligations of the main parties
In this section, ADR decrees the obligations of those considered the main participants, namely:
consignors. This requires the consignor to:
ascertain that dangerous goods (DGs) have been classified and are authorized for carriage (which means that they are listed in ADR and are not prohibited in the 2.2.X.2 sub-sections of each class)
inform the carrier of the DGs being offered for carriage in a traceable form
contain the DGs according to ADR specifications
comply with requirements on means of despatch and forwarding restrictions
ensure that even empty tanks and vehicles are compliant
check that others (eg packers) performing a task for the consignor also meet ADR, though this may rely on information and data supplied by those others
when consigning for a third party (eg, as a freight forwarder may do), ensure that the third party has provided all the necessary information and documents.
carriers. This requires the carrier to:
check that the goods in carriage are permitted to be carried under ADR
check that the information needed has been provided, and is on board the transport unit(s)
ascertain visually that vehicles and loads have no obvious defects, leakages, missing equipment or other fault. This is a task usually given to the driver
check that any approvals or tests are still within date
check vehicles are not overloaded
check placards and marks are correct
check the equipment required (as listed on Instructions in Writing (IiW) within ADR) is present
stop the journey if a safety infringement is found and correct it.
consignees. This requires the consignee to:
not refuse delivery without compelling reasons
check that ADR issues relating to the goods have been complied with (though no subsequent specific action, such as reporting to the authorities, is required)
correct any infringement relating to a container
check that any other participant, such as an unloader or decontamination worker, complies with ADR.
Obligations of other parties
In this sub-section, ADR provides what it calls a “non-exhaustive” list of other parties and stipulates their safety obligations. In this group are:
loaders of packages, who shall:
check that the goods are permitted for carriage
check for leakages and not load any leaking materials
comply with loading provisions, such as those for stowage and segregation
apply the relevant placards and/or marks to packages.
packers, who shall package and label and/or mark as required by ADR
fillers of tanks and bulk vehicles, who have a long list of issues to check
tank-container/portable tank operators, who are responsible for ensuring they are in compliance
unloaders of packages or of tanks/bulk vehicles. These workers also have quite a long list of checks to be made.
Obligations of not-listed parties
There are other participants involved in the safe transport of dangerous goods, but not mentioned in Chapter 1.4.2 or 1.4.3
Perhaps foremost amongst these are drivers, who are not mentioned but whose safe driving is perhaps one of the most critical factors for ensuring the safety of the general public during the transportation of dangerous goods. The driver is usually responsible for checking that they have the right fire extinguishers, in the correct condition, as well as the other emergency and personal protective kit prescribed in ADR. The driver is also usually considered responsible for ensuring the correct paperwork for themselves, their load and, if applicable, the vehicle is present and in order.
Others that may also be important include:
those who manufacture, test and certify packages, tanks and bulk vehicles (as can be demonstrated by the recent concerns over improperly certified tanks that have had to be specifically authorised for use on British roads in order to ensure continuity of fuel supplies)
those who test dangerous goods for their properties
those who provide a classification of the goods. For example, in a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) that consignors redistributing those goods rely on when carrying out their obligations to “ascertain that the dangerous goods are classified and authorized for carriage in accordance with ADR”
cleaners and decontamination workers
manufacturers and distributors that use other parties (such as freight forwarders) to consign on their behalf.
Companies must ensure that they meet all of the requirements of ADR Chapter 1.4.