Hazmat Shipping: Must-Know Issues
You cannot be safe and over classify.
Because of heightened security concerns
and recent hazmat transportation
incidents, the shipping paper
has come under more scrutiny by the U.S.
Department of Transportation (DOT)
and state inspectors than ever before.
Shippers and carriers are being asked to
demonstrate their compliance with all
regulations for preparing their hazardous
materials for shipment. Moreover, of the
304 civil enforcement actions closed from
May 2005 to April 2006, 215 were shippers
in violation of one or more of the
hazmat regulations. The price they are
paying is going up. The Safe, Accountable,
Flexible, Efficient Transportation
Equity Act of 2005 raised maximum civil
penalty amounts to $50,000/day/incident
($100,000/day/incident for serious violations).
It’s not just the company logistics
manager who has to worry.
The hazmat regulations do not
restrict who can sign the shipping paper.
It is not uncommon for the EH&S professional
to have responsibilities for managing
hazmat transportation. Whether it
is a shipment of hazardous waste, the
movement of raw materials into the field
or another site, or the movement of
unwanted surplus chemicals to another
person, EH&S managers are signing
shipping papers. Even though hazmat
compliance may be an ancillary function,
the consequences are significant for both
the managers and their organizations.
DOT requires that each shipment
accompanied by a shipping paper must contain
a certification on behalf of the shipper.
The words are few (34 to 46, depending on
which one you choose), but significant:
I hereby declare that the contents of
this consignment are fully and accurately
described above by the proper shipping
name, and are classified, packaged,
marked and labeled/placarded and are in
all respects in proper condition for transport
according to applicable international
and national governmental regulations.
[49 CFR 172.204(a)(2), emphasis added]
With each shipping paper and each
signature, the EH&S manager asserts
that everything to do with that hazmat
shipment has been done 100 percent correctly,
according to DOT’s rules, period.
Even more disconcerting, it is unlikely
the manager has personally done all of
the functions himself, so he is relying on
others to do the job correctly. The need
to know that everything has been done
correctly is essential; in fact, DOT considers
the person affixing the certification
signature to be a “hazmat employee” and
therefore subject to the training requirements
in the hazmat rules (49 CFR 172,
The level of function-specific training
a person signing the shipping paper must
complete is significant. He must know all
aspects of classifying, packaging, and
communicating hazardous materials.
After all, if you don’t know what is
required, how do you know someone else
has performed his functions correctly?
This article will provide an overview of
the hazmat shipping and classification
process. In next month’s issue, the second
part of the article will address packaging,
loading, and security. Along the way, we’ll
identify the common mistakes and oversights
made by shippers and also key management
strategies that may be easily
implemented to help you reduce risks
conserve resources and save time.
Overview of the Hazmat Rules
Perhaps the first question that must be
answered is, do the DOT hazmat rules
apply? DOT requires compliance when the
following four criteria are true:
¦ Transportation of
¦ Hazardous Materials
¦ In commerce
¦ By aircraft, rail car, vessel, or
motor vehicle along a public highway
DOT defines a hazardous material as “a
substance of material, which has been
determined by the Secretary of Transportation
to be capable of posing an unreasonable
risk to health, safety, and property
when transported in commerce, and which
has been so designated. . . .” [49 CFR
171.8, emphasis added]
DOT designates hazmats primarily by
defining hazardous properties. These
properties are categorized into hazard
classes and divisions (e.g., Class 3—flammable
liquids). However, also included in
the DOT definition are miscellaneous
materials that may or may not be considered
hazardous in the general sense. This
includes hazardous wastes and substances
defined by EPA, marine pollutants, and
certain materials simply named by DOT as
DOT takes a fairly broad interpretation of
“in commerce” for purposes of the hazmat
rules. Essentially, DOT has indicated that
materials are transported in commerce if it
is being done to further a commercial
enterprise. This can include shipments of:
¦ Products to distribution centers or
directly to customers
¦ Raw materials or intermediates
The Offering Process
The hazmat rules are fairly prescriptive. A
careful study of the rules shows there is a specific sequence you must follow, from the
initial intent to ship through the loading,
transportation, and unloading. Unfortunately,
the rules are not written in sequential
order. To properly manage the shipping
process (from classification to loading), the
EH&S manager needs to understand this
process—not only to know who is responsible
for what, but also to know what each
of those people must depend on to do their
functions properly. This process will help
the manager find weaknesses and implement
corrections, as needed.
To assist students in our training workshops,
we have created a mechanism called
The Ten Steps™. Following is a brief summary
of those steps:
2. Selecting a proper shipping name
3. Selecting a package
4. Marking and labeling each package
5. Preparing the shipping documents
6. Providing and using placards
7. Transporting (includes loading and
8. Preparing for and responding to
10. Keeping up with changes and
This is simply a guideline or roadmap
directing the shipper along the road from
initial intent to offer a material for shipment
through its entry into transportation
and arrival at its destination, as well as
identifying support and administrative
There are two fatal mistakes shippers can
make regarding hazmat shipments:
1. Under classifying: failing to declare a
material as hazardous or failing to identify
all applicable DOT hazards
2. Over classifying: identifying DOT
hazards that do not apply
As indicated above, everything done in
the hazmat shipping process is based on the
DOT hazards that apply. This is the keystone.
A review of DOT’s enforcement
guidelines indicates the significance it
places on proper classification. The list of
frequently cited violations at 49 CFR 107,
Appendix A identifies undeclared shipments
as having a baseline penalty of
$15,000 and up per violation. No other
listed penalty has a higher base amount
(remember, the maximum penalty can be as
high as $50,000/day/incident).
To be successful at classifying, the
shipper must identify each material being
offered and identify all DOT hazards for
each of those materials. You must determine
whether you are shipping a single
material that is a mixture of different constituents
or a package that has different
materials, each with its own properties.
Once you’ve identified what you are shipping,
then you can determine whether it is
a DOT hazmat and identify its hazards.
Testing vs. Knowledge
It is not necessary to quantify or measure
every property of a material or identify 100
percent of the constituent make up in order
to classify it under the DOT rules. You
must determine whether the properties of
the material cause it to meet or not meet
hazard class definitions. Most of the hazard
class definitions provide specific thresholds
that can be measured. To determine
whether a material meets one of these
hazard class definitions, all you need to
know is whether the material is above or
below the threshold; the actual number
may not be significant.
One of the common sources of knowledge
the shipper might have is the Material
Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). The EH&S
manager is probably very familiar with
these documents as part of the site’s workplace
safety program. However, one of the
common pitfalls is that there is too much
stock put in this one document to provide
us with all of the answers to our regulatory
questions. Unfortunately, while it does
have value, there are limitations.
First, it is important to note the MSDS
is primarily a workplace safety document,
not a transportation document. What might
be “hazardous” under one program may not
be under another. For example, flammable
liquids are defined under OSHA’s general
industry standards as those liquids with a
flash point < 100° F (37.8° C). The DOT
threshold for flammable liquids is < 60° C
(~140° F). The EH&S manager must be
careful not to automatically transfer a hazard
designation from one program to another.
It is also important to remember that
the MSDS was prepared by the manufacturer
for the properties the material had as
the manufacturer produced it. The EH&S
manager must determine whether those
properties are transferable to the material
being offering for shipment.
Shipping Hazardous Wastes
Again, be careful. What is hazardous under
one program may not be in another. Case
in point: hazardous wastes. DOT defines
hazardous wastes as those that are “subject
to the Hazardous Waste Manifest Requirements
of the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency specified in 40 CFR Part 262.”
[49 CFR 171.8] There are special communication
and classification requirements
under the DOT rules when you ship a hazardous
waste. However, it must be hazardous
waste, as defined by DOT.
This is important to remember when
you manage wastes that are hazardous under
a state program but not under the federal
hazardous waste rules. In some of these situations,
the waste may not meet any of
DOT’s hazardous materials criteria. For
example, a common flea-killing product has
an oral LD50 of 1943 mg/kg. This material
would be a hazardous waste in California [22
CCR 66261.24]. It is neither a hazardous
waste under federal rules nor a hazardous
material under DOT rules.
CLASSES OF HAZARDOUS MATERIALS DEFINED BY DOT
|Class and Division
||Name and Description
||49 CFR Reference
Electrical devices likely to create sparks or heat, heavily magnetic materials for air shipment,
incompatible materials in the same package, materials that may undergo self-accelerated
decomposition, ketone peroxides, etc.
||Explosives (with a mass explosion hazard)
Mass explosion hazards; projection hazards; predominantly fire hazard; no significant blast
hazard; very insensitive explosives; extremely insensitive explosives.
Is a gas at 68º F and burns readily in air
||Non-flammable compressed gas
Gas shipped at a pressure = 41 psia or as a cryogenic liquid which is neither flammable
Is a gas at 68º F and has an LC50 < 5000 ml/m3 (i.e., one half of one percent concentration in
air will kill half of the animals in a laboratory test).
Liquid with a flash point = 140º F (100º F for domestic transportation by rail or highway);
flash point is the temperature at which a liquid gives off enough vapor to ignite and “flash”
back to the liquid surface.
Liquid with a flash point < 200º F.
Wetted explosive; OR strongly exothermic decomposition; OR either ignites through friction
(e.g., matches) OR burns very fast when ignited.
||Spontaneously combustible material
Spontaneously ignites within 5 minutes on exposure to air or can either heat to over 200°C
or spontaneously ignite within 24 hours.
||Dangerous when wet material
Spontaneously ignites or emits flammable or toxic gasses when contacted with water.
Causes or enhances combustion of other materials (e.g., sodium nitrite, oxygen gas,
A specific chemical group that is generally reactive.
Solids or liquids that are poisonous by ingestion, inhalation or skin contact.
Infectious substance (etiologic agent)
Disease causing organisms, tissue, or body fluid samples for medical diagnosis, biological
products, and medical wastes.
Specific activity listed for individual radionuclides at 173.435 and 173.436; for unlisted
isotopes, use formula at 173.433.
Dissolves steel or aluminum or destroys skin tissue
||Miscellaneous hazardous material (If no higher hazard)
Anesthetic or noxious or similar hazard to crew of an airplane. Material that is shipped hot.
EPA-regulated hazardous waste or hazardous substance, MARPOL marine pollutants, plus
other materials specifically listed by the U.S. DOT.
||Other regulated materials: ORM-D
Small quantities of hazardous materials in secure packages classed down because of the
limited hazard presented.
This article originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.