CAUTION: I NO LONGER THINK THE ANSWER HERE IS CORRECT (SEE ‘Why dangerous goods placards ARE NOT required on an ambulance‘ (13 May 2015).  I LEAVE THIS POST HERE SO, WHEN READ WITH THE LATER POST THE ENTIRE REASONING CAN BE SEEN, AS WELL AS THE COMMENTS ON THIS POST THAT HELPED INFORM THE LATER DISCUSSION.  THIS POST SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON.

This question was received from a correspondent in NSW:

I was wondering if you had the time to answer a quick question about the law in NSW for the transport of Oxygen cylinders.

I note that BOC suggest transporting the cylinders in accordance within local laws (of which I have not been able to find any), but wonder if St John & NSW Ambulance vehicles should be displaying the 2.2: Non-flammable, non-toxic gas. & 5.1: Oxidizing substances signage on the outside of vehicles.

I saw this question and thought ‘the answer has to be ‘no they don’t need to display a dangerous goods placard, because if they did, they would’. So, I assumed, the answer would be a matter of finding the relevant law and somewhere, in its application, would the answer why it did not apply to the ambulance service.   The answer was not so clear.

The relevant law is set out in the Australian Dangerous Goods Code which is given effect by the Dangerous Goods (Road And Rail Transport) Act 2008 (NSW) and the Dangerous Goods (Road and Rail Transport) Regulation 2014 (NSW).

According to the Code, compressed oxygen is a class 2.2 dangerous good (see the table on p 152). The rules for when a vehicle must carry a placard is set out in the table on p 449. Where the dangerous goods are in a container that holds less than 500 litres or 500kgs of dangerous goods then a placard is not required unless the total load exceeds 1000 litres or kilograms (http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/dangerousgoods/FS2placardloads.htm).

I am reliably informed that the standard load in an ambulance is two D size cylinders and 3 C size cylinders. According to BOC Healthcare UK, a “D” size oxygen cylinder is 340 litres and a “C” size is 170 litres (http://www.bochealthcare.co.uk/internet.lh.lh.gbr/en/images/cylinder_data_med309965_2011409_54065.pdf). I assume that is also true in Australia. Assuming all the oxygen bottles are full, an ambulance with 2 D and 3 C bottles is carrying 1190 litres of compressed oxygen.

According to clause 5, the Dangerous Goods (Road and Rail Transport) Regulation 2014 (NSW) does not apply where:

(a) the load does not contain (i) dangerous goods in a receptacle with a capacity of more than 500 litres, or

(b) the goods are not, and do not include, designated dangerous goods, and

(c) the aggregate quantity of the dangerous goods in the load is less than 25% of a placard load, and

(d) the goods are not being transported by the person in the course of a business of transporting goods by road, and

(e) in relation to transport by rail-the goods are not being transported by the person on a passenger train.

Criterion (a) is satisfied as none of the ‘receptacles’ (ie the D and C cylinders) is larger than 500 litres. Criteria (b) and (d) are met and criteria (e) is not relevant. The only issue is whether the total load (1190 litres) is less than 25% of the ‘placard load’.

Unhelpfully clause 9 defines a ‘placard load’ as ‘a load that contains dangerous goods that must be placarded under clause 78’.  Clause 78 says that a load must be ‘placarded’ if there is a receptacle in excess of 500 litres (which is not the case with D and C cylinders) or if it ‘contains an aggregate quantity of dangerous goods of 1,000 or more’ (see also http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/dangerousgoods/FS2placardloads.htm).   The aggregate quantity is the number of litres where litres are used to describe the load or ‘total capacity in litres of receptacles in the load containing dangerous goods of UN Class 2 (except aerosols)’ (cl 9).

Remember that Oxygen is class 2.2 so the aggregate quantity in the average ambulance is ‘1,000 or more’. In that case this is not only more than 25% of a placard load, it is more than 100% of a placard load so criteria (c) does not apply and therefore neither does the exemption in clause 5.

Clause 7 provides a further exemption where the amount of dangerous goods is less than 500l/kg and the goods are being transported ‘by a person who intends to use them’ (cl 7). An ambulance is being used to transport compressed oxygen so the paramedics can use it in the course of their duties, not as a way to transport oxygen from point A to point B, so this regulation would apply if the total quantity of oxygen in the vehicle is less than 500l, but as noted, a standard load appears to be in excess of 1000 litres.

It follows from the above that as far as I can see, unless an exemption has been granted by the Environment Protection Authority (Dangerous Goods (Road And Rail Transport) Act 2008 (NSW) s 42) an ambulance carrying in excess of 1000 litres of compressed oxygen should be carrying the appropriate placard.

Now this answer seemed so counter-intuitive to me that I took the unusual step of trying to verify my conclusion. I say ‘unusual’ as usually I’m confident enough to write my interpretation of the law and I don’t see it is my job to ask the regulators, ie the law enforcers, if they agree. Those that work in enforcement agencies have to apply directions from senior staff, form pragmatic interpretations of the law or assume the law says what they meant it to say, not what it does say. A lawyer often has to ‘challenge’ decisions of government on the basis that they are not applying the law as it is. Given that role one does not ask the regulator what the law is but goes to the law to form one’s own opinion. But, as I say, this time the answer seemed so counter intuitive that I wrote to the Environment Protection Authority to ask if I’d missed anything or misunderstood the law.  Their officer, in an email reply said:

In regards to the transport of dangerous Class 2 goods placarding is only required for compressed gas if:

The vehicle is transporting 250 litres/kilos or more of any dangerous goods where there is any amount of Class 2.1 (flammable gas) or Class 2.3 (toxic gas).

or

The vehicle is transporting more than 1000 litres/kilos of Class 2.2 (non-toxic, non- flammable compressed gas).

As noted above a load of 2 D and 3 C cylinders is in excess of 1000 litres. It follows that an ambulance should have a dangerous good placard.

According to the code [5.2.2.1.5.1] there is no need for both ‘2.2: Non-flammable, non-toxic gas & 5.1: Oxidizing substances placards’. Instead ‘a yellow “OXIDISING GAS” label (model No. 2.5) may be used In lieu of Division 2.2 plus Subsidiary risk 5.1 labels’. The appropriate placard is shown, below.

placard

I would suggest the ambulance services and the Environment Protection Authority may need to sit down to discuss the finer points of the law and how much oxygen is being carried in each vehicle.