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May / June 2002
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Dr. Herbert Kielbassa, managing director of the world renowned LABORDATA International Materials Testing Institute, has an unrivalled knowledge of the global FIBC industry.

Third party inspections

Currently there are two subjects that everybody is discussing: problems associated with discharge of static electricity from FIBCs on the one hand and with third party inspections for dangerous goods FIBCs on the other.

At first glance, neither of these two subjects appears to have much in common. However, both issues are concerned with the avoidance of accidents, even if they arise from completely different causes. In fact the potential danger from static discharges is generally considered to be more serious than the risks associated with transporting dangerous goods of packaging groups II and III in FIBCs. Of course the danger is compounded if both risk factors coincide: dangerous materials in an explosive environment. However, on this occasion I shall confine myself to a few critical remarks concerning third party inspections addressed to so-called 'Competent Authorities'.

Competent Authority? What does it mean? You will find the definition in the UN regulations, e.g. ADR chapter 1.2: "Competent authority means the authority or authorities or any other body or bodies designated as such in each State and in each specific case in accordance with domestic law." From this it follows that a state institution as well as a private one can be government-approved as a competent authority. An international appraisal of such bodies shows that the state institutions are in the minority and the intention is to restrict them still further. Private institutions fulfil their function as competent authorities with greater flexibility, faster and for less cost. Thus the continuing shift towards the private institutions makes sense.

 

The UN Regulations entrust some discretionary power to the competent authorities concerning national rules in cases where the UN Regulations provide no precise rulings. Third party inspections are a case in point. As can be expected in such cases, the national authorities are not always able to reconcile their ideas and intentions. Many countries do not have a national authority responsible for packaging and transport of dangerous goods. For these countries, such matters tend to be determined from outside because cross-border movement of dangerous goods and international marketing of FIBCs and other forms of packaging for dangerous goods cannot operate outside the UN Regulations. For this reason FIBC manufacturers based in countries where no national competent authority exists, must employ the services of a foreign authorised body for gaining approval for their products. Yet it is not important from which country the approvals are issued. In any case the approvals have a global validity regardless of whether the approving body demands third party inspections or not. That is the point that leads to heated discussion within the industry concerning sense and nonsense of third party inspections. The disagreement is entirely understandable when one compares the diverging regulations of different competent authorities.

For example:
Germany: two inspections per year
Switzerland, Sweden, Austria: one inspection per year
France: one inspection in three years (on condition that the manufacturer is ISO-certified)
USA, UK, Australia: no inspection

The above-mentioned countries just serve as an example to show the existing discrepancies and many other countries could be mentioned. However, there is only one country which demands two inspections a year: Germany.

Quite understandably, these discussions also take into account the inspection costs which sometimes are out of all proportion to the value of the goods being inspected. In such situations a degree of flexibility is needed in the working relationship between the manufacturer and the inspecting body. Obviously some authorities remain fixated purely on national concerns. The Germans, for example, try to justify the twice yearly inspections through the absurd argument of equal treatment without taking into account specific factors relating to the type of packaging or to the global market. Some people fail to grasp that in the interests of equal treatment, an alignment of the procedures commonly used in the global community has to be reached. In the last resort, if loss of acceptance becomes perceptible even a state-run institution will revise its system and comply with international practice.

Just to avoid any possible misunderstandings: I am not in favour of cancelling the third party inspections. We must have inspections and audits covering dangerous goods FIBCs. But this must be done in a reasonable manner and in compliance with internationally accepted regulations. Direct experience of flagrant abuse of regulations and criminal counterfeiting of FIBC certificates prove that regular inspections are an important instrument for maintaining quality and correct practice. The French system should be considered as a fair and acceptable basis for a global inspection system.


Comments are welcome and these may be sent by letter to Dr Kielbassa, c/o INDUSTRIAL BULK WORLD, 25 West Cottages, Off West End Lane, London NW6 1RJ, UK. Alternatively, he can be contacted direct (tel: +49 531 33 9011, fax: +49 531 33 9013; email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).


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