Chevella Smith: Hazmat Investigator

A person in a hazmat suit handles inspects two drums for leaks or damages.

Chevella Smith is a hazardous materials investigator for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). If that sounds like a mix between a episode of CSI and science class…well, that’s not too far off.

PHMSA is an agency of the Federal Government.

“Our mission is to protect people, property, and the environment from the risks of hazardous materials in transportation,” Chevella said. “Any hazardous material that is put into transportation—be it air, water, highway, or rail—we write those regulations.”

Screenshot image of video interview with Chavella Smith.

Click a button to watch a interview with Chevella Smith.

Chevella is in PHMSA’s enforcement branch. She travels the nation, and even visits foreign countries, to conduct hazardous materials inspections. The purpose of these inspections? To ensure that companies follow safety regulations for the transportation of hazardous materials. These materials could include flammable liquids, explosive gases, or even fireworks.

Hazardous materials are all around us, even in the products we find on store shelves. Some cellphone batteries, for example, contain chemicals that could start on fire if subjected to too much heat. Product manufacturers must use caution when moving hazardous materials from place to place. For example, if a tanker truck containing toxic chemicals were to spill or leak it could do serious harm to people and property nearby.

To avoid accidents manufacturers who transport hazardous materials must follow PHMSA's strict rules and regulations. That’s where Chevella comes in.

During her inspections, Chevella looks for a number of things. Are the hazardous materials properly labeled? Are they being shipped in an approved container? Has the container been tested to withstand the stress of transportation, like extreme heat and bumpy roads? Have drivers received the proper training? These inspections ensure transportation is occurring safely. They also allow Chevella to travel to different places and meet new people almost daily.

“What I love about my job is that it’s different every day," Chevella said. "It’s the people and the situations that are exciting, and that change from day to day."

But most of all, said Chevella, she enjoys knowing she is making people safe.

“I enjoy knowing that I make a difference every day as far as protecting the public,” she said. “As I’m driving along and I’m looking at the trucks and the trains that are on the highways and rails, I know that we are making a difference.”

Chevella encourages college-bound students to consider federal agencies, like PHMSA, when examining future opportunities. Working in government can be not only fascinating, but also meaningful. Chevella has a degree in public administration. She said she was always interested in government work because of it's impact on society.

To learn more about careers with PHMSA, check out their website. Want to know more about amazing jobs in the transportation industry? Keep following Fast Forward. Then, explore for yourself!

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 2 Issue 4 – Pipeline