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How to Ship Hazardous Materials

Posted by Brian Shutt on August 27, 2021 - 8:04 AM
Hazmat shipment

Hazmat shipping and federal compliance

Because of their sensitive nature, every shipment that contains hazardous materials — whether traveling by land, air or sea — is subject to federal regulations that help ensure safety is the top priority for everyone involved. So, if you’re shipping hazmat, it’s important to know the steps involved so you can do your part to mitigate the safety concerns and stay compliant.

How to know if your freight is hazardous

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) defines a hazardous good as anything that can pose a risk to health, safety or property while being transported for commerce. Anything from batteries to gasoline can meet that definition, but there’s more to determining if a shipment is subject to hazmat regulations.

Title 49 of the U.S. Code governs everything related to transportation, and you should consult the federal hazardous materials table to determine if you have a hazardous shipment. If a material is listed in the hazmat table, it’s subject to federal hazmat transportation rules unless it meets the published quantity exceptions.

What are quantity exceptions?

While many substances are dangerous in any amount, some (like paints) don’t pose a significant human or environmental risk if they’re transported in smaller quantities or special packaging. These are called “limited quantity” shipments — previously called ORM-D (other regulated materials — domestic) — and they can exempt shippers and carriers from some of the costs, certifications and specialty handling associated with a hazmat shipment.

The quantities and packaging requirements are listed by substance in the federal hazmat table. Be sure to check for these when looking up your product.

Hazmat shipping essentials

Once you’ve identified your shipment as hazardous, you’ll need to make sure you and your team are ready for the added requirements.

Safety training

Because hazmat freight is packaged, handled and sorted by warehouse and dock workers before it ever gets loaded, part of the federal government’s safety measures is mandatory training for all individuals who work with hazardous materials.

Hazmat trainings are governed by each modal authority under the Department of Transportation (DOT) — 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) — to make sure they’re tailored to the necessary safety measures for each mode and job function.

Employers are responsible for conducting hazmat training, so consult the appropriate modal authority to make sure your training meets federal safety guidelines on everything from packaging to paperwork.

Emergency contact

Every hazmat shipment needs a designated contact who can respond to accidents, spills or unintended exposures during shipping. They can be an individual within your company or a contracted emergency management service, as long as they’re available 24/7 and know the ins and outs of your shipment. Designating a capable contact means you can have an immediate, coordinated response to any emergency.

Shipping documents

Federal law requires written documentation for all hazmat shipments, including substance descriptions, the emergency contact information and a specifically formatted bill of lading (BOL). For transporting hazardous waste, shippers are required to keep papers on file for 3 years from the date the shipment is accepted. Records for all other hazardous loads should be kept for 2 years.

Getting everything in writing in the required format keeps you compliant and ensures everyone involved in the process knows how to stay safe while handling and hauling your freight.

Hazmat bill of lading

Non-hazmat BOLs are often written by carriers but writing a hazmat BOL is always a shipper’s responsibility. This helps ensure that it includes all the necessary classification and safety information. In addition to general commodity descriptions, you must also include the UN/NA numbers for all hazardous items. Missing information or improper BOL formatting are some of the most common hazmat shipping citations. Be sure to consult the full shipping paper requirements to make sure your BOL has all the required information and formatting.

Hazmat safety data sheet (SDS)

A safety data sheet — previously called a material safety data sheet (MSDS) — is a required piece of documentation that includes detailed safety information for every hazardous material in your shipment. The hazmat manufacturer is responsible for writing the SDS according to all the federal guidelines for length, structure and content. It lists all the classification information, how to safely handle your freight, and what to do in case of emergency. The SDS must also include the shipper’s emergency contact information for easy access.

Labeling, marking and placarding

You must clearly identify any package or vehicle that contains hazmat with clear, unobstructed labels, markings and placards. The U.S. DOT defines each one’s function and placement in a specific way, and understanding the definitions and processes of each is crucial for hazmat compliance:

Hazmat labels

Hazmat labels are images that identify what kind of hazard a package contains. Their size, images and colors are always standardized. They include the UN/NA numbers associated with the substance to help workers and emergency responders quickly identify how to handle the contents.

Hazmat markings

Markings give extra information about a hazmat package, like the proper upright position or additional environmental risks. Like labels, markings should meet standard size, shape, and color conventions. They are typically identifiable because of their bold, contrasting background colors which help lettering and images stand out. Markings are also required to display proper shipping names and UN numbers.

Hazmat placards

Placards are larger versions of hazmat labels that are placed on the outside of a vehicle carrying hazardous freight.

Although some drivers may carry their own hazmat placards, it’s the shipper’s responsibility to make sure that the correct placards are provided and correctly displayed on the truck.

Learn more about hazmat placards and classifications

How to book a hazmat shipment

Now that you understand the hazmat federal regulations, learn how they factor into booking the right carrier who understands your needs.

Choose a reputable carrier

Not all carriers are equipped to carry hazmat freight.  Before booking, ask about safety and security processes to make sure you’re working with a compliance-conscious carrier. One signal is if the carrier has a hazmat team or department dedicated to safety and compliance. You can ask a potential carrier to discuss:

  • Safety training and procedures
  • Past incidents involving hazmat freight
  • Hazmat permits
  • FMCSA carrier safety ratings
  • Hazmat insurance

Discussing safety and compliance in advance can help you vet a carrier’s credentials to ensure the safe transport of your freight.

Communicate your needs

Some hazmat-certified carriers have limitations on the type or quantity of hazmat they’re willing to carry, so it’s important to communicate your needs to your provider early and clearly. Provide the following information to help make sure you’re securing the right solution for your freight:

  • UN/NA numbers
  • Packaging information and freight dimensions
  • Hazmat safety data sheets
  • An accurate hazmat bill of lading
  • A 24-hour emergency contact

Providing this information during booking will make sure your carrier is prepared for the types of hazards associated with your shipment.

Shipping hazmat freight comes with a lot of responsibilities, but a responsible and knowledgeable logistics partner can make all the difference in keeping your shipments, reputation and budget intact.

Rely on ArcBest to carry your hazardous freight

ArcBest offers hazmat services through our LTL carrier ABF Freight, our Panther Premium Logistics fleet, and our network of hazmat-certified carriers. And our dedicated safety and compliance team works closely with account managers to ensure compliance standards are always met. Explore our freight solutions today.