Are your goods safe for take-off?


What could go wrong if dry ice is loaded near a large dog in the cargo hold? Handling dangerous goods requires an encyclopaedic knowledge of safety facts.

A family is moving from Helsinki to Sydney. They are on a tight schedule, so they ship their entire household contents by air. Before their container is loaded, a routine security check reveals the presence of a dangerous flammable substance – a can of spray paint inadvertently packed among other hardware supplies.

Cargo Supervisor Pekka Johansson is then called in. An industry veteran of 37 years, he personally checks multiple consignments of dangerous goods shipped by Finnair Cargo on a daily basis.

“They have hardware stores in Australia too – so why take the risk? Most breaches are made in ignorance. People don’t realize they could be putting anyone in danger,” says Johansson.

Many shippers make the mistake of attempting to send electronic devices containing or packed with lithium batteries. There is a risk, however, that such batteries can overheat and catch fire. When a consignment containing undeclared dangerous goods is disclosed, the shipment is stopped and the shipper or agent is contacted immediately. Shipment is suspended until the unsafe item is removed or the consignment is thoroughly prepared as a declared dangerous goods shipment. The agent or shipper is also contacted in the event of improper labelling, such as a missing “this side up” mark or UN number (a four-digit number identifying hazardous substances).

Jungle of regulations

For the record, “dangerous goods” are items that may endanger the safety of the aircraft, crew or passengers on board. This includes all flammable liquids and solids, pressure containers such as spray cans, explosives, and various other hazardous goods such as radioactive materials, poisons and infectious substances.

Such cargo may be transported only if it meets strict requirements specified in the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations – a constantly amended “door-stopper” that hardly makes for light recreational reading. This manual contains detailed instructions on correct classification, packing, marking, labelling and documentation. Only appropriately trained personnel are qualified to perform these duties, and it is the shipper’s responsibility to ensure that all applicable air transport requirements are met.

Mandatory training requirements are specified for shippers, packers and the personnel of freight forwarders, but naturally also for airlines and ground handling agents. Finnair Cargo teams are trained rigorously to ensure that no passengers or crew are ever at risk. Licences for handling dangerous goods are valid for only two years, and personnel take a refresher course every 24 months to ensure that their safety savvy is up-to-date.

Geiger counters ready

Finnair handles radioactive shipments on a daily basis, typically consignments containing a small quantity of radioactive isotopes such as krypton or iodine intended for medical treatment.

“There is a long checklist of precautions we take. First we verify that the documentation is in order. Then we weigh the shipment and make sure the packaging is secure and clearly marked and labelled,” explains Johansson.

Similar precautions also apply to flammable, toxic and corrosive items, all of which have their own complex safety checklists. All dangerous consignments must be secured in the compartment to ensure that they are immobilized during the flight.

But returning to our original question, what can go wrong if you pack dry ice next to a canine passenger?  “A large dog travelling eight hours nonstop from New York to Helsinki needs at least five cubic metres of air. Dry ice depletes oxygen – and could endanger your pet.”

Safe shipping guide
•    If you intend to ship any dangerous goods, advance arrangements are always required.
•    All dangerous goods must be packed, marked, labelled and documented in compliance with IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations and the regulations applicable at the ports of departure, transit and destination.
•    For further details, please refer to IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations.

Text by Silja Kudel
Photo by iStockphoto

Published April 29, 2013

Category: Finnair Cargo