Shipping hazardous materials from A to B is more common than you might think — and to keep people and environments safe, it’s full of licenses, endorsements, regulations, and placard rules to ensure no one accidentally turns themselves into a teenage mutant ninja turtle. Here are six quick facts you should know to better understand hazmat shipping and why safety measures are taken each step of the way to ensure everyone along the supply chain knows what they’re dealing with when dangerous substances are aboard.
Hazmat Shipping Requires Precautionary Measures
Responsibly transporting hazardous materials requires more stringent safety precautions and regulatory procedures than normal freight. Hazmat shipping is the process of getting these items to their destination while following the necessary procedures to ensure all best practices are observed for the safest possible delivery.
From workers on loading docks to the drivers taking them across state lines, it’s important that everyone involved in hazmat shipping understands how to move these goods without putting anyone in danger.
Common Hazmat Products
The list of hazmat-classified items is long and includes several subcategories (more on that later). Some items on the list tend to be obvious (anything that explodes or catches fire, chemicals, things you wouldn’t take on an airplane — that sort of thing) but there are also some everyday household items you may not be aware of. Less-obvious threats like essential oils, perfumes, and certain paints can still pose a danger in transit if not managed correctly.
While not entirely comprehensive, here’s a list of several common items the DOT classifies as hazardous material:
- Aerosol spray receptacles (e.g., household cleaners, disinfectants, hairspray, spray paint)
- Airbags and airbag inflators
- Alcohols (e.g., rubbing alcohol, high-proof spirits)
- Ammunition and gun powders
- Camping equipment (e.g., camping stove, kerosene lanterns)
- Car batteries
- Carbon dioxide canisters and cylinders
- Consumer electronics with lithium batteries (e.g., cell phones, laptops)
- Dry ice
- Essential oils (flammable)
- Fertilizer compounds and ammonium nitrate fertilizers
- Fire extinguishers
- Fireworks — consumer and novelty
- Fragrances (e.g., perfumes and colognes)
- Fuels (e.g., gasoline, diesel fuel, propane, kerosene)
- Fuel-powered equipment (containing fuel)
- Hand sanitizer
- Inks (flammable)
- Insecticides and pest control products
- Lighters and matches
- Lithium batteries, including portable chargers and power banks
- Mercury and articles that contain mercury
- Nail polish and nail polish remover
- Oxygen tanks (medical and recreational)
- Paint thinners and removers
- Refrigerant gases (e.g., liquid nitrogen or carbon dioxide)
- Scuba tanks
- Smoke detectors
- Swimming pool chemicals
- Wood treatment products (e.g., sealants, stains, varnishes)
What Is a Hazmat Endorsement, and When Do You Need a Hazmat-Endorsed Driver?
Professional truck drivers already sport a DOT-approved Commercial Drivers License (CDL), but further acknowledgments confirming their understanding of and competency in carrying hazardous material (termed “endorsements”) are needed on their CDL in order to legally take on dangerous freight. This process includes a background check, written tests, and further fees and paperwork.
If the load being shipped is large enough to require a placard (which unfortunately requires an entire guide all its own just to even attempt to understand), then the shipment will also require a hazmat endorsement. This means there are technically some exceptions to endorsing a shipment of hazardous materials, but these may require deeper research on a case-by-case basis.
Why Do Shipments Need an Safety Data Sheet (SDS)?
Hazardous materials are carefully labeled as such to draw attention to any special handling instructions involved with transporting the substance in question safely. A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is the official document serving as the source of truth for all requisite health and safety information specific to the substance onboard that those involved in the shipping and receiving process need to avoid harm when loading and unloading these materials.
Easily-accessible SDSs are an OSHA requirement for shipments of hazardous materials, just as they would be in laboratories, shops, or other workplaces.
What’s This 4-Digit Code I See on Hazmat Shipments?
A UN number is another way of quickly identifying hazardous materials and substances to those involved in international shipping logistics. UN numbers are generally unique four-digit codes, though some groups of chemicals or products with similar properties can share a common UN number.
The Nine Hazmat Classifications Explained
Hazardous material is officially split into nine different categories or classes based on its content and associated safe handling precautions. These classifications are as follows:
Class 1: Explosives. The DOT labels “items that are capable of or designed to shatter or burst apart” as explosives — and yes, that does include commercial fireworks.
Class 2: Gases. These can be both flammable and nonflammable, poisonous or corrosive. Gasses are inherently dangerous to ship.
Class 3: Flammable Liquids. As you may have guessed, the DOT defines “flammable liquids” as “liquids that can catch on fire” — makes sense to us.
Class 4: Flammable Solids. These are your standard materials at risk of catching fire, spontaneously combusting, or (strangely) anything that may become dangerous when wet.
Class 5: Organic Peroxides and Oxidizers. In case chemistry was as long ago for you as it was for us, these are any hazardous materials that react when they come into contact with oxygen.
Class 6: Etiologic Materials and Poisons. This class encompasses dangerous materials that can poison or cause infection if allowed to come into contact with people.
Class 7: Radioactive Materials. Probably the type of hazardous material that comes most immediately to mind when you picture a hazmat warning label, these are any materials that alone, or in combination with other materials, can emit ionizing radiation. They are defined as “radioactive” if they are active at more than 0.002 microcuries per gram.
Class 8: Corrosives. Any substance capable of causing irreversible, corrosive damage to skin or other materials (including steel or aluminum).
Class 9: Miscellaneous Substances. A catch-all for anything that still threatens a potential hazard during transport, but for whatever reason doesn’t fit in the above classifications.
Contact First Call Logistics for all of Your Hazardous Freight Shipping Needs
At First Call Logistics, we approach our customers’ supply chain and logistics needs differently. Well-versed in shipping hazardous materials, our team will work to create a strategy that ensures your products are delivered on time safely. Ready to learn how First Call can support your specific shipping requrements? Contact us today!