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Shipping Hazardous Materials: Best Practices
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Shipping Hazardous Materials: Best Practices

May 12, 2023
Last Updated:
July 23, 2023
5 min read

Keep your shipments safe & secure with the best practices for shipping hazardous materials. ✔Learn everything from proper labeling & packaging to documentation.

Shipping Hazardous Materials: Best Practices

Table of Contents

Shipping hazardous materials or dangerous goods (also known as hazmat shipping) requires businesses to take specific steps in order to ensure the safety of their staff, customers, and other people that may be involved in the transportation process.

Since hazmat shipments account for 12% of all freight tonnage shipped within the United States, it is essential that businesses understand and comply with all regulations when shipping hazmat materials.

Failure to do so can lead to severe consequences in terms of fines and potential liability for damages in the event of an accident or incident.

This article will discuss the basics of hazmat shipping and the best practices for ensuring compliance and safety when it comes to shipping hazardous materials.

What are Hazardous Materials?

When you hear the term "dangerous" or "hazardous", you likely think of nuclear waste, toxic chemicals, or explosives. While these items are all considered hazardous materials, the definition is much broader than that and includes common household products such as aerosol cans, cleaners, lithium batteries, and other everyday items.

Hazardous materials (HAZMAT) are solids, liquids, or gases that can potentially harm people, living organisms, property, or the environment.

These materials must be shipped, stored, and handled with utmost care to prevent any negative impact.

Types of Hazardous Materials

They are classified into nine different classes based on the type of hazard they present, including:

types of hazardous materials categorized in 9 different classes

Class 1: Explosives

When it comes to hazardous materials, Class 1 is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous categories. Explosives are products that have the potential to explode under certain conditions, and they are divided into six subcategories based on their specific hazards:

  • Division 1.1: Explosives with a mass explosion hazard
  • Division 1.2: Explosives with a projection hazard
  • Division 1.3: Explosives with predominantly a fire hazard
  • Division 1.4: Explosives with no significant blast hazard
  • Division 1.5: Very insensitive explosives
  • Division 1.6: Extremely insensitive explosive articles

Some examples include fireworks, ammunition, and detonators.

Class 2: Gases

These products are gases that can cause damage when exposed to humans, living organisms, or specific environments. They are divided into three subcategories based on the type of gas:

  • Division 2.1: Flammable gases
  • Division 2.2: Non-flammable gases
  • Division 2.3: Poison gases
  • Division 2.4: Corrosive gases

Some examples include aerosols, propane, and fire extinguishers — all items found in everyday households.

Class 3: Flammable and combustible liquids

These products are liquids that can ignite and cause fires under certain conditions. They are further divided into three subcategories based on the flashpoint of the liquid:

  • Division 3.1: Flashpoint below -18°C (0°F)
  • Division 3.2: Flashpoint below -18°C and above, but less than 23°C (73°F)
  • Division 3.3: Flashpoint 23°C and up to 61°C (141°F)

Some examples include gasoline, nail polish, and paint thinners.

Class 4: Flammable solids, spontaneously combustibles, and dangerous when wet

These products are either solid or liquid combustible materials that can ignite under certain conditions, and they are divided into four subcategories based on the type of hazard:

  • Division 4.1: Flammable solids
  • Division 4.2: Spontaneously combustible materials
  • Division 4.3: Dangerous when wet

Examples of these materials include matches, magnesium powder, and sodium.

Class 5: Oxidizers/Reactive materials

These products are either solid or liquid materials that have the potential to create an exothermic reaction when exposed to certain conditions. They are divided into two subcategories based on their specific characteristics:

  • Division 5.1: Oxidizers
  • Division 5.2: Organic peroxides

Some examples include chlorine, bleach, and ammonia.

Class 6: Toxic/Infectious materials

Toxic materials and infectious substances are materials that can be hazardous to humans or living organisms when exposed. They are divided into two subcategories based on their characteristics:

Division 6.1: Toxic substances

Division 6.2: Etiologic (infectious) materials

Some examples include pesticides, lead, and medical waste.

Class 7: Radioactive materials

A radioactive material is classified as any that emits radiation. The activity level must be higher than 0.002 microcuries per gram.

Some examples include uranium and X-ray machines.

Class 8: Corrosives

Corrosive materials are substances that can cause damage to material, property, or living organisms when exposed. They are divided into two subcategories based on their characteristics:

Some examples include battery acid, bleach, and drain cleaner.

Class 9: Miscellaneous hazardous materials

Miscellaneous hazardous materials are those that don’t fall under any of the other classes but can still be hazardous when exposed to humans, living organisms, or the environment.

Examples include dry ice, lithium-ion batteries, and first-aid kits.

Best Practices for Shipping Hazardous Materials

Shipping hazardous materials can be challenging and risky if not done properly. As a shipper, it's your responsibility to ensure that your hazardous materials are packaged and transported in compliance with regulations to prevent accidents and harm to people and the environment.

#1 Properly Classify Materials

It is important that you accurately classify your hazardous materials before shipping. This will help ensure that the operator understands the specific details of the hazardous material and can take appropriate safety precautions during transportation.

You need to identify the proper shipping name, UN identification number, hazard class, and packing group for each material to determine the proper packaging, labeling, and documentation requirements.

#2 Know the Regulations

The first and foremost step to shipping hazardous materials is to know the regulations that apply to your specific products and mode of transportation.

Depending on the destination, quantity, type, and nature of your hazardous materials, you may have to comply with different sets of regulations such as the:

  • 49 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations, Title 49)
  • The International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG) Code
  • The International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR)

#3 Follow Packing Guidelines

When it comes to shipping hazardous materials, it is absolutely crucial to follow the proper packing guidelines. Not only is it required by law, but it is also essential for the safety of those involved in the shipping process.

#4 Label and Mark Accurately

Follow the labeling requirements of hazardous materials to ensure that they are transported safely and efficiently. It is important to correctly identify the contents of each package's contents and any potential hazards that may be associated with them.

The shipper must affix the correct labels, placards, and marks to all shipping containers with hazardous materials in accordance with the applicable regulations. Here are some of the most common hazardous materials markings:

Labels for shipping hazardous materials

#5 Prepare Shipping Documentation

Apart from the labels and marks, preparing the necessary shipping documentation is also vital. This includes the bill of lading, packing list, and a dangerous goods declaration form.

PDF Template for Shipper's Declaration of Dangerous Goods

The shipper must ensure that all containers are properly identified and labeled with the correct information before they are released for shipment. It is also important to keep copies of all documents related to the shipment for future reference.

Keeping your documents in a single place has never been easier with Cargoflip. Our software allows you to keep track of all documents related to your hazardous materials shipment in one place, and it even gives you access to real-time tracking and notifications when shipments are delivered. Sign up for a free trial to see just how easy it is to organize your hazmat shipping needs.

#6 Use a Qualified Carrier

Finally, you must ensure you use a qualified carrier for your hazardous materials shipments. Not all freight carriers can legally transport hazardous materials, and it is important to find one with the right qualifications before working with them.

Do some research beforehand to ensure that the company has experience handling hazardous shipments and is compliant with all relevant regulations and safety protocols. You can also inquire about their insurance coverage and safety record to better understand what you can expect from them.

Don't Let Hazmat Shipping Regulations Trip You Up

As we've shown in this article, even everyday items can be a hazardous material.

Transporting hazardous materials is not easy, but with the right knowledge and preparation, it can be done safely and efficiently.

Following these steps will help ensure that your shipment complies with the relevant regulations and reaches its destination in one piece.  Investing the time and effort into understanding the rules and regulations governing hazardous materials shipping will pay off in the long run.

And if you need help, Cargoflip is here to make sure your shipments are compliant and get delivered on time. Try out our software today.

Shipping Hazardous Materials FAQ

How much does it cost to ship hazardous materials?

The cost of shipping hazardous materials is largely dependent on the type and quantity of material being shipped, as well as the distance it needs to travel. Your chosen carrier will be able to provide you with an estimate for your specific shipment.

Who classifies hazardous materials?

The United States Department of Transportation  is responsible for classifying hazardous materials in the US. They work with other organizations, such as the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG) and the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR), to ensure that all shipments comply with relevant international regulations.

How do you ship samples of hazardous materials?

When sending out samples of hazardous materials, you follow the same protocols as when shipping larger quantities.

What documentation is required for a dangerous goods shipment?

In order to legally ship hazardous materials, shippers must include a bill of lading, dangerous goods declaration form, and packing list with their shipment. The documents must contain the name of the hazardous material being shipped, as well as its classification and any special instructions for handling.

What types penalties can result from not following hazmat rules?

If hazardous materials are not packaged, labeled and documented correctly, you may face serious penalties from the DOT. These can range from small fines to criminal charges, depending on the severity of the violation.

The highest civil penalty for a violation done knowingly is currently set at $78,376. However, if the violation results in the death, serious illness, severe injury to any person, or extensive property destruction, the maximum civil penalty is increased to $182,877.

What is the proper sequence for a hazmat shipping description?

The proper sequence for a hazmat shipping description includes the UN number, name of the hazardous material, technical name, class and any special packing instructions. This should be followed by the gross mass (weight), total quantity being shipped and volume/liters. The last part of the description should include a list of all other relevant information such as marks and numbers, packaging information and any special transportation requirements.  It is important to include all of this information in order for the shipment to be accepted by your chosen carrier.

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