When you're shipping hazardous materials (HAZMAT) and dangerous goods, you need to take extra care to get everything right. Mistakes in HAZMAT shipping are costly for companies and dangerous for anyone who comes in contact with your shipment.
HAZMAT shipping is complex, and shippers who are handling dangerous goods must go through formal certification and training in order to understand all the nuances. But if you're new to the world of dangerous goods, here are a few pointers to get you started.
What kinds of materials are considered HAZMAT or dangerous?
Dangerous goods are defined as any substances—solid, liquid or gas—that have the potential to harm people, property or the environment. This includes materials that have been determined to be hazardous to human health, such as toxic, infectious or carcinogenic (cancer-causing) materials. It also includes materials that pose a particular danger during shipping and handling, such as fire, explosion, radiation or the release of poisonous, caustic or highly acidic liquids and gases.
In the U.S. and Canada, the term "dangerous goods" is often used interchangeably with "hazardous material" or HAZMAT, but the legal definitions may be slightly different internationally. Hazardous materials regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) include:
- Hazardous substances (toxic and disease-causing agents)
- Hazardous wastes
- Marine pollutants
- Elevated temperature materials
- Materials that meet the criteria for specific hazard classes
DOT regulations define nine classes of hazardous materials. These HAZMAT classes are widely recognized internationally. Each of these classes is further divided into specific subclasses, generating a full list of 33 specific hazard classes. The main HAZMAT classes include:
- Class 1: Explosives (with 6 explosion hazard subclasses)
- Class 2: Gases (flammable, non-flammable and toxic)
- Class 3: Flammable and Combustible Liquids (flammable vs. combustible)
- Class 4: Flammable Solids (flammable, spontaneously combustible, dangerous when wet)
- Class 5: Oxidizing Substances and Organic Peroxides (2 subclasses)
- Class 6: Toxic and Infectious Substances (toxic vs. infectious)
- Class 7: Radioactive Materials
- Class 8: Corrosives (liquids and solids)
- Miscellaneous Hazardous Materials (covers all other hazardous materials, including batteries, dry ice, elevated temperature substances, asbestos, magnetized materials and environmentally regulated substances)
What are the shipper's responsibilities for HAZMAT goods?
HAZMAT goods are heavily regulated by a variety of agencies. Depending on the goods, mode of transport and geographic location, these may include the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Federal Railway Administration (FRA), Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG). When shipping internationally, there may be additional international agencies involved in regulating HAZMAT shipments.
Some of the responsibilities for the shipper include:
- Understanding the hazard class for their specific goods and all of the applicable regulations that apply to those goods.
- Completing a shipper's declaration detailing exactly what is being shipped, how it must be packed and labeled, how dangerous it is (including specific hazard class), and precautions that must be taken during transport.
- Ensuring proper labeling of goods with appropriate HAZMAT labels. If you are using a third-party carrier to transport your goods, make sure they understand the labeling requirements and have appropriate HAZMAT placards on cartons, crates, vehicles and/or shipping containers.
- Understand which types of dangerous goods can and cannot be loaded, transported or stored together, and what restrictions apply to mixing classes of hazardous materials. Some materials are safe to transport by themselves but can become extremely hazardous if they come in contact with other hazardous materials. A HAZMAT segregation table provides a cheat sheet for understanding which materials can be stored and transported together, but shippers should look for specific guidance for their goods.
Shippers and carriers who handle hazardous goods are also required to take a formal training and certification course to ensure that they understand all of the ins and outs of HAZMAT shipping and how they apply to their specific goods.
Everyone along the supply chain has a responsibility to understand and follow HAZMAT safety measures and regulations, whether shipping by land, air or sea. Failing to follow them can result in stiff fines and even jail time, so it's important to make sure you understand your responsibilities!