What Happens When Dangerous Goods are Shipped Incorrectly?

Certain goods in your inventory may require special labeling and packaging to meet general transportation requirements and/or carrier specific guidelines.  

Dangerous goods (DG) are items that require special handling and labeling. They generally include items that can be flammable, explosive under certain conditions, or may become hazardous if not handled properly.  

Some common goods that need special “dangerous goods” labeling include aerosols, cosmetics, nail polish, perfumes, cleaning solutions, lighters, lithium batteries (that are included in many consumer electronics), machinery parts, pharmaceuticals, and paints.  

If you are shipping any dangerous goods, it’s so important to label and categorize them correctly. If items are not appropriately labeled, your shipping carrier may apply heavy fines or a suspension of service all together.  

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How to Identify Dangerous Goods

The first thing you need to look at is the Safety Data Sheet, or SDS (formerly known as an MSDS, or Material Safety Data Sheet). This should be provided to you by the manufacturer of the goods.  

An SDS will follow a standardized 16-section format that has been agreed upon by countries around the world to identify the hazard within your product. It will go into detail about how to safely store and transport it.  

How to Ship Dangerous Goods

There are a few key steps you need to follow to properly ship DG items. These include:   

  1. Know your product and the regulations around it. This includes the types of documentation your specific products need in order to be shipped.  
  2. Ensure your team has the training to handle your products. Some products may require specific storage and handling to keep the products and your team safe.  
  3. Classify your goods properly. Freight classifications will affect your documentation and transportation costs.   
  4. Package your products and shipments properly. Safety is key with hazardous materials, and properly packaging dangerous goods is so important.  
  5. Use correct labeling. By using the appropriate labels, you’ll be sure your carrier will handle your products correctly.  
  6. Find the right shipping container. You’ll need to request containers that can house dangerous goods.  

What Happens When Dangerous Goods are Mislabeled?  

The burden of compliance is on the shipper to ensure that all governmental and carrier specific requirements are met. Any third-party partners, like a 3PL, won’t get fined if products are mislabeled or improperly packaged.  

The penalties for non-compliance can be progressive and severe. They may include monetary fines, suspension of service, or a carrier might completely remove the shipper’s ability to ship.  

There is a lot at stake for ecommerce brands to get it right the first time. It is important that your fulfillment provider is an expert in dangerous goods to ensure you don’t get any of the penalties. 

Which Shipping Services Take Dangerous Goods?  

Not all shipping carriers will transport dangerous goods. Even the carriers who do, not all services support DG items.  

While most dangerous goods are commonly agreed upon, there are some differentiations among shipping carriers. Check with your carrier to see which types of dangerous goods they ship, and which services support your products.  

For example, DG can’t be shipped by air. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has a standard list of dangerous goods, many products can’t be shipped via air freight. These goods need to be shipped via ground or ocean freight. While these options are generally cheaper, they also take much longer than air travel.  

How a 3PL Can Help  

Communicating your SDS information to your fulfillment provider is the first step. Your 3PL will use the SDS as a blueprint for how to prepare and label your orders. Based on this, they will advise you on the shipping methods (with relative transit times) available for these items.  

Outsourcing fulfillment requires finding a 3PL with services that fit your brand’s needs. If you ship dangerous goods, it’s imperative that you work with a 3PL who understands how to package, label, and transport your products correctly, so that you don’t get fined or penalized.  

Fulfilling dangerous goods requires a quality provider. Extra safety checks and proactive quality assurance procedures are important with dangerous goods and hazardous materials. There needs to be great communication and integration between your operations and your transportation teams, as these are the ones both handling and shipping your products.  

Working with a 3PL to get your documentation right is one of the best ways to ensure you don’t get penalized by the carriers and your products get safely to your customers. 

A reputable 3PL with experience in shipping dangerous goods will know which carriers and services support your brand. Not all carriers work with dangerous goods, so finding the carrier that can best match your needs is an important step that your 3PL should help you with.  


Looking for a 3PL who can handle your DG items? DCL’s team has decades of experience in the space. If you are seeking logistics or transportation support we’d love to hear from you. You can read DCL’s list of services to learn more, or check out the many companies we work with to ensure great logistics support. Send us a note to connect about how we can help your company grow.