here comes trouble...
20 December 2019 - 22:46Oh, what an adventure!
Last Friday, Josie was upset and nervous because she and others in the Air Department got written up. Apparently we had four HM-10's in the Air Dock for the month of December. (The HM-10 form is used by our company to self-audit. When a center commits a mistake with a hazardous material, the center that discovers the error files the HM-10 to clear themselves of wrongdoing and alert the origin center of their mistake so it doesn't happen again.) Four in one year is considered a lot, let alone a single month. So yeah, Josie, Mariana, Matt, Jorge, Jonray and Juanathan all got write-ups. Josie's been jittery about it ever since, bringing packages over to me (I'm an auditor) to double-check if they're safe to go into the Air container.
Tuesday was one such day. She showed me a package, a small, white Styrofoam rounded cube (it looked like a giant die) with a Class 9 Diamond Hazard label and a statement that it contained 1.7 kg of Dry Ice. Since it is such a small quantity, I told her I'm not required to audit it, but not to scan it into her smalls bag, and just send it down to the Air Dock. Moments later, Sugey came up to the data-cap area and asked me about the box. It was part of a shipment of four, and she was concerned because of the Class 9 label. I told her that because it was such a small amount of Dry Ice, I don't really need to audit it, but that if it would put her at ease, I would audit and call in the package, since the 1.7 kg was rather faded. She agreed to bring it to me, and once I had it again, and I looked it over more carefully, I realized that the package was missing the description of what was being frozen, which is required for all Dry Ice packages that don't require and audit. Missing also was any statement that the package was for either medical or diagnostic purposes, which is the only time it won't need a description of the contents. I opened up my Dry Ice Job Aid (just in case, although I knew it was necessary information) to confirm I wasn't wrong. While I was doing that, Sugey brought up three other identical packages that turned out to be part of the same four-piece shipment with the box I had. Her concern was that they were all the same, and of the same shipment, so by that token, logically, all the packages must contain Dry Ice, although these three others were not marked as such. Again, to put her at ease, I told her I'd mention these three other packages to the person I spoke to at the HMSC (Hazardous Materials Support Center) once I called the one box in.
Long story short (too late, huh?), I spoke to a lady from the help-line named Amber, and brought her up to date on the packages. I first went over the package that I knew was actually out of compliance, the one with the Class 9 label. Once she was done taking down that information, I informed her that this was actually part of a multi-piece shipment, and that the other packages, although identical to the box I had called in, did not in fact, have any Class 9 label, UN number or other hazardous markings. I also told her that I could hear ice rattling around inside all four Styrofoam containers, but that I had no real way of knowing if it was dry ice or regular ice within unless I opened the packages, which I'm not allowed to do as an auditor. She then asked me questions pertaining to the physical properties of the three packages: were they cold to the touch? Yes, I told her, but I also admitted that the temperature outside that day was in the fifties, so everything felt cold to the touch (I was trying to be funny, I guess). I did clarify that despite the cold, the surface of the packages was colder than the atmosphere because I could feel it through the thick Styrofoam. She asked me again if there were any other hazardous markings, and as I double-checked, I noticed that one of the packages did have a torn marking on it. Now, the package with the Class 9 diamond hazard label also had this marking: it was a large rectangular sticker, in yellow and either a faded black or navy blue (can't really remember now, but I lean towards black) that had irrelevant information except for the phrase "KEEP FROZEN", or something along those lines. The complete sticker on the package with the Class 9 label also had the statement "Dry Ice," and this was the exact same sticker on one of the other packages. Except that in the case of the box that didn't have the Class 9 label, the sticker was partially torn off. A strip was torn off, to be precise, and the portion that the strip removed was the statement that said "Dry Ice." This I told to Amber over the phone. She informed me that since the packages weren't fuming or were covered in frost, as would be the case for Dry Ice, I had no real way of knowing that the contents weren't being cooled by regular ice. As for the package with the defaced sticker, she said that since the portion that was torn out was the words that actually stated "Dry Ice," we had to assume the shipper had not included dry ice in the package. She told me to forward the three that had no markings, and she gave me a confirmation number for the case. I asked her then, because I know how set in her methods and strict Sugey can be, if writing down the confirmation number on the package would be enough for the Air Dock to know the packages could be loaded. I asked her, specifically, if I could affix the green and yellow "Cleared for Air Loading" stickers we have as auditors. Now, we seldom use these stickers anymore, ever since the regulations changed for Lithium Batteries a few years back. Amber told me to go ahead and use them. So I did just that, but first I asked her if the confirmation number would be the same for the packages being forwarded as for the package in the shipment that was being rejected, or if she was going to give me a different number. Her answer was that she had "put it all down under the same number" and that the case number was valid for all four. I asked Alex for a permanent marker (more visible than writing on packages with a pen), wrote the number on the thermal label for each package, then busted out my CFAL stickers and stuck one (or tried to) to each accepted box. I mention that I "tried" because these stickers are so seldom used by us auditors anymore, that my stickers had mold spots on them and the glue had dried up and refused to stick. After filling them out with my initials, date and building code, I had to tape them onto the packages to make sure they didn't fall off. I remember Josie giggling at my antics. After I sent those three back down to the Air Dock, Sugey called me to my phone to once again, double-check (although at this point it was more of a triple-check, wasn't it?) if those packages were good to go. I explained to her that Amber at the HMSC told me to forward them, and that I had written the confirmation number on the packages so this wouldn't come back and bite us in the ass, and satisfied, Sugey allowed them to be loaded into the container and they left.
So why am I relating all this back now?
Because of course, as my effin' luck would have it, these packages were detained in Louisville, Kentucky. I guess someone over there must've reviewed them, and re-audited them, because they were flagged as Undeclared HazMat's. Now I'm being told the FAA is involved and is opening up an investigation on the matter, and that UPS is likely to get fined. And now Amber at the HMSC is saying that she never instructed me to forward them, and that I was the one who defaced the stupid label, tearing off the Dry Ice statement on the sticker to sneak the three packages through.
What. The. Fuck.
Fuck.Seriously, what the royal fuck? I've been working in this department for years now; that I would go so far as to commit fraud, which is what this equates to, by law, is as asinine as it is ridiculous. I mean, why would I? And let's say, for the sake of argument, that I did, indeed, try to sneak packages with a substance that I know displaces oxygen and pressure within the belly of a cargo plane, jeopardizing the life of our pilot, for - what? For what? I don't even know the shipper, let alone think I owe them anything. But let's say I did, for whatever reason, try to smuggle these by our system. Why in the world would I only do that to three and detain one? Wouldn't I try to sneak them all through? Wouldn't flagging one package bring attention to the others? And let's say it didn't - which it most certainly does, - I used the Cleared for Air Loading stickers on those three packages, knowing full well that we hardly use these stickers anymore, that whenever we do use them, it must be done with higher authorization, and most importantly, that since instances of using these stickers is rare nowadays, it brings attention to whatever packages they are affixed to. What kind of lame, stupid smuggler am I? This entire situation is so ridiculous. I'm annoyed beyond belief; mainly because some supervisors - *cough* Ruben! *cough* - actually entertained the possibility. Now I have to write an entire report on the events that occurred and submit it tonight before I'm allowed to go home, so tomorrow it can be gone over and then forwarded to the FAA for review. I tried my best to write it down in an email to my boss's boss's boss, but I couldn't get the words out. Also the reason I decided to vent about it here, honestly. Now once I update, all I gotta do is copy+paste most of this entry, clean it up some (I am a pro-fessional!), and forward it on. So let me go ahead and do that. I am so ready for this workday to end.