Shipping Dangerous Goods? Read This Now!

Shipping dangerous goods - read this now

Putting a simple letter in the mailbox is a fairly easy task. Shipping a dangerous chemical? Not so much.

Shipping hazardous materials can be a challenge because there are so many regulations involved. While the number of rules that must be followed may seem like overkill, these laws are in place for a reason: to keep people safe from potential dangers.

International air transport association infographic

Because some items are dangerous, there are laws restricting their shipment and even prohibiting them altogether. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) works with various government agencies to develop regulations and ensure that they are effective. Before you ship dangerous goods, read on to find out what you need to know. Note that this is not a comprehensive list, but it’s a good start, especially for beginners.

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Defining Dangerous Goods

Experts disposing infested materialDangerous goods – also known as hazardous materials, dangerous cargo, and restricted articles – are items that are considered harmful to people as well as aircraft. Dangerous goods are listed in the Dangerous Goods Regulations. Not all of them are strange chemicals with names you’ve never heard of. In fact, many of them – such as gas, matches, and lithium batteries – are items you have in your home.

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Responsibilities of the Shipper

If you plan to ship hazardous materials, you have a tough task ahead of you. You have many responsibilities in order to ensure that you ship these materials properly.

Of all of these responsibilities, properly classifying dangerous goods is the most important.  That’s because this is the most difficult step, and all other requirements are based on the proper identification.

The shipper is also responsible for creating a proper shipping name as well as identifying the proper class or division. Packaging, marking, and affixing the correct hazard warning label are also major responsibilities.

Other responsibilities include having complete documentation. Documentation includes shipping papers, which communicate that a hazard exists and describes the product. Emergency response information is also required on the paperwork. This outlines the health hazards associated with the dangerous goods and methods required for handling leaks, spills, and fires caused by the product. First aid measures must also be included. The product cannot be shipped without appropriate paperwork.

Other responsibilities, such as blocking, bracing, placarding, and incident reporting are also the responsibility of the shipper.

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Hazard Classes

Dangerous goods are classified into nine categories:

  1. Explosives
  2. Gases
  3. Flammable liquid
  4. Flammable solids
  5. Organic peroxides and other oxidizing substances
  6. Poisonous and infectious substances
  7. Radioactive material
  8. Corrosives
  9. Miscellaneous dangerous goods

red, black and white Danger, Dangerous Goods warning signClass 1 materials have the ability to detonate or combust due to a chemical reaction. These items are regulated because they can cause damage by producing gas at high speeds, pressures, and temperatures.

Class 2 materials are substances that are completely gaseous at 20°C or which have a vapor pressure of at least 300 kPa at 50°C. These items are regulated because they are toxic to humans, can be flammable, and may cause asphyxiation.

Class 3 materials are liquids, mixtures, or liquids containing solids that have a flash point (meaning they give off a flammable vapor) at temperatures below 60-65°C. Flammable liquids are volatile and, as such, have the ability to spontaneously combust and cause fires.

Class 4 materials are similar to Class 3 material except they exist in solid form. They are also flammable when they come into contact with water.

Class 5 materials consist of oxidizers, which create oxygen as a result of a chemical reaction. Organic peroxides are also in this category. They contain hydrogen and organic radicals, which leads to rapid burns and decomposition. They can cause damage to eyes.

Class 6 materials consist of toxic substances, which are items that can serious injury or death if inhaled, swallowed, or touched. Infectious substances are also in this category. They contain pathogens such as bacteria, parasites, and other agents that can cause disease.

Class 7 materials contain unstable radionuclides, which cause radioactive decay. The result is radiation exposure, which is harmful to human health.

Class 8 materials are substances that cause disintegration to other materials through a chemical reaction. They can cause severe damage to human skin and other living organisms.

Class 9 materials are not covered by other classes. These include hazardous substances that can harm human health and safety, as well as their means of transport.


Note that FedEx prohibits some hazardous materials from being shipped. You may be able to ship these through a different method, though. Check with your preferred carrier for details.

Prohibited items include explosives, poisonous gas, spontaneously combustible materials, poisonous materials (inhalation and non-inhalation hazards), materials that are dangerous when wet, infectious substances, and two classes of radioactive materials.

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Packaging Guidelines

Hazardous materials must be packaged in special materials and boxes based on the standards put in place by IATA. This means using United Nations Performance Oriented Packaging (UN POP). This packaging is approved based on UN standards and requirements for construction, materials, and maximum capacity. Containers must pass various performance tests before they can be authorized to be used to ship hazardous materials.

Distribution warehouse, package shipment, freight transportation and deliveryThe only exception is non-specification packaging allowed by Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations. Packaging materials must be new or like new. This page shows examples of properly completed packaging.

There are three packing groups. Packing Group I is for the most dangerous materials. Group II is reserved for materials of medium danger, while Group II is for materials that present a minor degree of danger.

There are many other requirements that must be followed. For example, dangerous goods cannot be shipped in FedEx boxes. You are not allowed to tape, band, or strap together hazardous materials to create a bundle. Class 2 cylinders must be placed in an outer package and marked with the notations “Overpack” or “Inside packages comply with prescribed specifications.”

For containers with friction-fitted lids, the lid must have a retaining ring around it or the appropriate number of lid clips. Pint containers require four lid clips, five lid clips are required for quart containers, and gallon containers require six clips.

There are special requirements for packaging and shipping batteries and items containing batteries. There are even more regulations for lithium batteries, such as testing requirements. You can view all the requirements here.

When using fiberboard non-specification or outer packaging, you must meet certain requirements. At a minimum, packages weighing up to 20 pounds must have a 32-edge crush test or 200-pound busting test package. Packages weighing 21-50 pounds must have a 44-edge crush test or 250-pound busting test package. Packages weighing 51-70 pounds must have a 55-edge crush test or 275-pound busting test package.

Freight transportation, packages shipment, warehouse logistics and cargo loading and unloadingThere are also size and unit restrictions for various container types. For metal, the maximum unit size is one gallon, with four units the max. The maximum volume is four gallons, with a maximum net weight of 50 pounds per package.

For plastic, the maximum unit size is two gallons, with four units the max. The maximum volume is two gallons, with a maximum net weight of 50 pounds per package.

For 1/2 quart units of glass, twelve units are the max. The maximum volume is 12 pints, with a maximum net weight of 25 pounds per package.

For 1 quart units of glass, six units are the max. The maximum volume is six quarts, with a maximum net weight of 25 pounds per package.

For ½ gallon units of glass, four units are the max. The maximum volume is two gallons, with a maximum net weight of 25 pounds per package.

For 1 gallon units of glass, two units are the max. The maximum volume is two gallons, with a maximum net weight of 25 pounds per package.

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Marking Guidelines

Packages containing dangerous goods must be marked in accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 49. This means that they must have at least four types of markings:

  1. Shipper’s address
  2. Recipient’s address
  3. Shipping name (this is designated by the Department of Transportation)
  4. UN/NA number. A United Nations (UN) number has four digits and is used to identify hazardous materials. A North American (NA) number also has four digits and may be used if the material has no UN number.

Dangerous goods being shipped representing the hazards of cargo.Additional markings may be needed if you ship explosives or lighter refills, ship a package under exception 49 CFR 173.13, use an outer package or transport hazardous materials under a special permit.

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Labeling Guidelines

Besides markings, proper labeling is also required. You must use the diamond-shaped label, which lists the division and hazard class. If the material presents multiple hazards, you must place a subsidiary label within six inches of the primary label.

There are three exceptions to these labeling rules. When a package is shipped under a special permit by the Department of Transportation, shipped as Limited Quantity, or shipped under exception 49 CFR 173.13, a label may not be required. It is best to consult with the Dangerous Goods Regulations to make sure.

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Required Training

All employees who handle dangerous goods must receive proper training. Training includes the following:

Chemist in protective clothing with gas mask gives a warning signGeneral awareness/familiarization. This type of training helps employees become aware of dangerous goods and their shipping requirements.

Safety training. This training focuses on the types of hazards as well as what employees can do to protect themselves.

Security training. Employees will learn about the various security risks that are posed by shipping dangerous goods, as well as methods to increase security. New employees are required to take this training within 90 days.

Function-specific training. Employees may receive additional training based on their role. Training will emphasize specialized skills, abilities, and knowledge.

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Need Help?

Understanding all the rules and regulations can be a challenge. Fortunately, there is help available to you.

The 2017 58th Edition IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) is the most user-friendly reference for shipping dangerous goods. Published by IATA, this book is used by more than 200 airlines and tells you everything you need to know about shipping hazardous materials domestically and internationally. It includes a list of all dangerous goods as well as their packing and labeling requirements. Updated annually, this book is a must-have for anyone who ships dangerous goods on a regular basis.

There are also training courses and workbooks to help you reinforce what you learn. If you need assistance training employees, consider a DGR Compliance Kit. Available in four languages – English, Spanish, French, and German – these kits will help you employ a safe working environment while helping you and your employees learn everything they need to know about shipping dangerous goods so your company can stay in compliance. Manuals, reference guides, videos, posters, CDs, and cards are all included in the kits.

By purchasing the right materials, you’ll not only be able to identify dangerous goods but also know how to fill out documentation and properly ship your products. You’ll also learn how to avoid fines, penalties, and delays.

Shipping dangerous goods is serious business quote

Shipping dangerous goods is serious business. There is no leeway in this area. It is heavily regulated, and companies and their employees are expected to abide by all laws. While this article presented many of the major aspects involved in shipping dangerous goods, there is still a lot to learn. Plus, laws change every year, so be sure to stay on top of all the changes.


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