Freelancers: Couriering laptops safely and why separating client hardware from your clean underwear supply is a good thing…

From an article I published on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/freelancers-couriering-laptops-safely-why-separating-client-berry/

Sending Laptops by courier. As a freelancer in the UK, I’m increasingly finding clients prefer to issue me with a laptop they have configured, dedicated to just their work, which means I’m always having to triple check if I have the right laptops with me and I’ve got to buy a new laptop bag as the current one has split as a result of optimistically cramming three in it when probably designed for one – oops!

BUT it also means I’m frequently sending/collecting laptops to/from base by motorcycle courier (some don’t trust postal couriers) or FedEx/DHL etc. This process puts some legal obligations on the sender, sometimes me and sometimes the company/organisation and there are a few things to be aware of.

Insurance

Usually for me the client pays and if they are underinsured it is their problem but occasionally it’s my responsibility. Things that I would be aware of and clear up with the client / contractor in writing include:

·       Insurance value; often this is the customs value of the hardware at present day value – this is what you will get if it falls of the back of a lorry; are you underinsured?

·       Insurance liability – unless you specifically arrange it most shipping contracts do not cover indirect loss e.g. if that laptop has your customer database on it and it falls into a competitor’s hands the courier is only on the hook for the hardware costs.

If the client expects you to ship and reclaim, it is probably wise to get written instruction from them on the exact details of the shipping conditions they desire.

Hazardous Labelling

Laptops usually contain Lithium Ion batteries. Although a rare occurrence, they do occasionally spontaneously combust and for the couriers’ staff protection – legally have to be labelled as hazardous and often declared as such in advance on the paperwork (I’ve had some clients not realise that technically a laptop is hazardous). Here’s a frightening CCTV recording from an office in Letchworth, UK where a laptop set fire to a plastics factory.

The best scenario is that you ship hardware around in its original box. Unfortunately, it’s fairly common for the original box to have long since gone to the big recycling centre in the Sky (probably Peterborough). To work around this, I have luckily found a local company who gets through a lot of laptops and when I need a box I just ask them – figuring the hazard labels for a similar laptop should suffice.

The main DHL “Guide to Shipping Dangerous Goods” web pages are a super source of information. The include a summary of shipper’s responsibilities with this key phrase:

·       The shipper is responsible for declaring, packaging and labelling Dangerous Goods. DHL Express will accept Dangerous Goods but with certain restrictions for the different products & services offered and only under certain conditions.

This is where it gets a bit grey for me and I could do with investigating further, often a client will submit the paperwork and my role is putting it in a box and handing it to a courier who turns up at the door. I generally don’t get instructions from the client so it’s a bit vague to me if I’m the shipper or the person filling in the courier forms.

Hazardous Labelling in the UK is changing Dec 2018

In 2017 the regulation on labelling Lithium Ion batteries changed. UK company, Hibiscus PLC have an excellent overview.

Many of the big couriers are very clued up (vs your dodgy bloke in a van like outfit) and luckily I generally only deal with them. DHL have a very good website covering shipping regulation including hazard labelling for Lithium Ion batteries, see here.

The DHL site notes this:

·       As of January 1, 2018 new rules have been introduced for packages containing lithium batteries that are packed and shipped as individual items (loose/bulk), in accordance with Section IA, IB and II of packing instruction 965 or 968.

·       The Class 9 Miscellaneous Dangerous Goods hazard label can still be used, as part of the transitional period, until the end of December 2018 for packages containing lithium batteries prepared in accordance with Section I, IA or IB of the lithium battery packing instructions.

Having investigated – those second hand laptop boxes often seem to have a Class 9 label so using the original box may not suffice. Another one I will have to think about. Thankfully most major couriers have a dangerous goods helpline (often called the Restricted Commodities Group).

There is plenty advice and opportunity to buy the correct hazard labels online. A google on “lithium ion battery warning label” should suffice. Typically laptops fall under the “contained within” regulation UN3481 (FedEx have some good info) .

Basically if in doubt – ask whoever is arranging the courier to specify the exact contents of the shipment and ask the Courier for appropriate labelling.

International Shipping

It gets even more complicated particularly if the insured value doesn’t match the tax man’s opinion and the laptop gets impounded, but a good courier can talk you through the options. Including anything else in the shipment can also cause impoundment, as a dear friend found when he decided to ship a spare pair of underpants and tube of toothpaste to save on hand-luggage… keep your hardware shipment processes separate from your knicker supply is all the advice I can offer! The rules on shipping Lithium batteries are even more stringent if air freight is involved.

VAT on components such as GPUs

Because of the fields I work in occasionally I handle/test GPUs mostly shipped from abroad. The VAT custom rules are pretty strict and if a card ends up in a retail use or as a sales demo enabler the higher rates are payable; if a card is shipped for R&D or marketing purposes e.g. to a blogger who isn’t going to buy just to write about a lower rate applies. This can cause all sorts of confusion and issues if a card ends up being repurposed and nobody is clear who is on the hook for the VAT. As a freelancer, check the paperwork and make sure the designated use is correct and VAT paid (preferably by someone else) and keep yourself away from tax evasion.

Other best practices when sending freelancers laptops

Some clients are quite good at sensible dos/don’t and you may want to consider

·       Stickers with your company logo identify the hardware and likely whose data is on it making your staff/contractors targets for opportunist overheard conversations or thefts. If a corporate laptop gets left on a train it is instantly identifiable to a dishonest person as to whose data is on it.

·       Labelling machines with their network names renders hiding them on untrusted networks a bit pointless

·       Some clients ship lockable laptop bags – some branded / some unbranded (see above on logo stickers), I’m particularly keen on the unbranded lockable rucksacks when travelling on the London tube/subway.

·       I’d estimate that 80% of my clients have moved to locked down encrypted hard disks, so even if the laptop goes walkies it’s not possible to extract data from the hard disk. If the laptop might have sensitive customer or client data on it is probably the best option. Usually on boot you’ll have to type in a password to access the encrypted disk and then the OS will boot and you use your normal windows password to access the OS.

·       There’s a Citrix employee blog with an anecdote of how he left a laptop on a tram in Amsterdam which then fell into competitive hands containing sensitive data, including confidential project details and sales databases. A good read on how human failure can be the weak point in security.

·       Freelancers probably should consider including a section in their contracts regarding laptop failure and return to base/for repair processes. Contractor laptops seem to be less reliable than most, or are the hardware equivalent of a 1987 Mini Metro (I guess like rental cars they’ve borne the brunt of travel and numerous drivers) and there are a lot of questions you need to know the second a client’s hardware fails – how do you carry on working, how do you get a replacement/repair, do you get paid if can’t work etc

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: