How to ship hazardous materials safely and compliantly

How to ship hazmats

What’s the easiest way to avoid danger, delays and possible fines when shipping hazmats? An expert says: Get trained!

If you need to ship hazardous materials – also known as dangerous goods – there is a lot to know before you begin. The regulations are many, and they can be complex. Also, the rules can vary by transportation mode (that is, air, rail, road and water), and they sometimes apply to goods that might not immediately be thought of as hazardous (lithium batteries, for example).

“Because safety is so critical, the most important regulation of all is the one that requires employees who will carry out this work will be properly trained.”
 – Lynn Reiman

The only way to fulfill the four major requirements associated with shipping dangerous goods (preparing shipping papers, plus proper packaging, marking and labeling) is to know what you are doing – and that takes training.

No “easy outs”

Lynn Reiman is a hazardous materials transportation expert at UPS with more than 20 years of experience. According to Reiman, the subject area is complicated, and there are no easy-outs. “There is always a temptation to try to simplify the subject, but people can easily overlook numerous, important details,” she explains.

Preparing shipments of hazardous materials is not an activity where an intelligent guess can ever suffice, according to Reiman. The process needs knowledge and attention to detail. “Safety is paramount. It is the reason dangerous goods regulations were created. Because safety is so critical, the most important regulation of all is the one that requires employees who will carry out this work will be properly trained,” she says.

Training eliminates uncertainty

Good training can eliminate the uncertainty that employees quite understandably feel when they are new to the subject. There is no short-cut for learning all the details of the subject – and the details vary according to the type of dangerous goods a person needs to ship, and the modes of transport involved, according to Reiman.

Instead, therefore, of attempting to create a quick-start guide to shipping hazardous materials, the best idea is to arrange training for yourself and any staff who will participate in the shipping process. UPS offers its own seminars. Learn more here.

According to Reiman, there is no substitute for thorough training. “You could not expect anyone to build a computer after reading a one-page summary of how a computer works, and shipping dangerous goods can be complex in a similar way.”

Are your people up to the task?

A simple, five-point quiz should help any manager ensure safe shipping by competent employees. It is reproduced below.

  • Employees have attended training to prepare items for shipping, and to select and book appropriate transportation.
  • Employees can correctly identify what are hazardous materials and what are not, including items commonly mistaken as non-hazardous.
  • Employees are familiar with the regulatory requirements that govern what they ship, and how they ship it. They recognize that goods, which are unregulated or lightly regulated by ground, may be fully regulated by air.
  • Employees have access to the required supplies and information for packaging, marking, labeling and documenting their shipments correctly.
  • Employees can explain the potential consequences of improper shipping.

Employees who don’t receive a check mark against all five items above should not be involved in shipping hazardous materials until the corrective action (retraining) has been taken.

Related resources that may help

If you have arrived at this page seeking a link to a particular resource, you will probably find it below.

Hazardous materials training is a federal requirement for anyone shipping dangerous goods.

You can also learn how to safely ship hazardous materials at a UPS Hazardous Materials/Dangerous Goods Seminar.

Regulating authorities include the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The FAA’s SafeCargo initiative provides a wealth of information and commonly asked questions regarding air transport.

Are you shipping with UPS? If so, consult the UPS Hazardous Materials Online Guide.

Is it safe to ship? Here you will find a list of common goods that may be hazardous.

For ground shipments in the United States, the definitive guide is 49 CFR;
You can find classification details in the easier-to-read UPS Chemical Table. Here, you can also determine what markings and labels are required on your shipment.

For air shipments in the United States, you can also use the UPS IATA chart.

For international air shipments, use the UPS IATA International table.

The Hazardous Materials Service Definition includes UPS’s variations (restrictions) from what the law allows, along with these IATA variations for air shipments.

If you are shipping abroad, UPS International Dangerous Goods service is available to and from approved countries.

Follow additional packaging requirements detailed in 49 CFR Part 178. Get more information on properly packing all types of batteries, ammunition or biological substances from UPS.

Get more information on shipping paperwork requirements in 49 CFR Parts 172.200–172.203.

UPS makes it easier to comply with current regulatory requirements when you process your shipments through our WorldShip® shipping system. You can find a how-to guide here.

Additional labels may be required to indicate time and temperature, lithium battery handling and shipments that may travel in cargo aircraft only. Find all label requirements in 49 CFR Part 172, Subpart E.

Some dangerous goods are exempt from label requirements under 49 CFR 173.13, which defines labeling exceptions for different hazardous materials.

UPS’s 49 CFR Shipping Examples, provides graphics of properly marked and labeled packages along with their shipping papers.

UPS only accepts UN3090 Lithium Metal Batteries without equipment for air transportation from preapproved shippers. Learn more about getting preapproved.

Still have questions?
Call the UPS Hazardous Materials Support Center at 1-800-554-9964 for answers about shipping hazardous materials with UPS.


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