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Handle with Care: The Essentials of Shipping Dangerous Goods

Are you planning on shipping hazmat (hazardous materials) but lack expertise? Here’s what you need to know and why it matters.

April 03, 2023

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Information courtesy of Labelmaster

Beyond explosives, corrosives and other flammable or radioactive materials, the “dangerous goods” classification encompasses a remarkable array of everyday items. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that items from medical devices to nail polish, and a host of common products you use and consume daily, are regulated when being transported. Here are some items you might not realize are considered dangerous goods while in transport:

  • Aerosols
  • Ethanol (alcoholic beverages)
  • Dental whitening strips
  • Magnets
  • Perfume
  • Paints/Coatings
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Power tools (containing lithium-ion batteries)

Even more interesting than the items listed above, milk and pistachios—in certain contexts—are regulated while in transport.

If you are surprised by any of these items, and wondering what else is considered dangerous goods while in transport, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s agency that regulates hazardous materials (PHMSA) offers this guidance:

Common Misconceptions about Dangerous Goods

Whether you call these items hazmat or dangerous goods, in the United States, the terms are used interchangeably, and regulatory experts hear many misconceptions about how to properly ship these items. Here are a few of the experts’ favorite misconceptions, with the full list available in this article from Labelmaster:

  • Misconception: If the box is UN rated and/or marked, you can put anything in it.
    • Reality: Not true. UN-certified packaging is highly specialized, with packaging designed specifically for lithium batteries, air bags, chemicals, and other materials.

    • Misconception: “They shipped it to me that way so it must be compliant, and I can just ship it again.”
      • Reality: Definitely not! 71% of hazmat pros surveyed in our most recent Global DG Confidence Outlook say their supply chain partners are not as compliant as they are. In dangerous goods transport, you can never assume anything—please check the regulations for everything you ship.

      • Misconception: Button cell lithium batteries aren’t really regulated.
        • Reality: People who say this may mean button cells aren’t fully regulated, but there’s no such thing as “not really regulated.” Please don’t make the mistake of believing that any kind of lithium batteries can be shipped without regard to relevant lithium battery regulations.

        Relying on hearsay and wishful thinking does not provide a solid foundation for an effective dangerous goods shipping strategy. The best-performing shipping operations have policies, processes, and usually technology to ensure their dangerous goods items get to their destination when promised, and in compliance with current regulations.

        Why it Matters: Costs of Getting Hazmat Shipping Wrong

        The cost and complexity of operating a regulated shipping practice pale in comparison to the costs of taking shortcuts and getting it wrong. Common costs in both money and time include:

        • Civil penalties
        • Customer fines
        • Loss in productivity while rectifying shipments that were flagged by regulators

        In addition to these common non-compliance costs, mistakes can compound and cost your organization in ways you might not have considered:

        • Shipments refused by carriers
        • Return shipping costs
        • Disposal of materials from returned shipments
        • Damage or contamination of trailers, tankers, containers, or vehicles
        • Incident reporting and cleanup costs
        • Higher insurance premiums resulting from failed inspections or incidents
        • Potential liability for damages or injuries

        In addition to bad publicity from hazmat incidents, your reputation is at stake with your customers, too. If you promise a customer that you will deliver a dangerous goods item on a certain day, and it get delayed due to an avoidable mistake, you may just lose that customer for good.