What Are Dangerous Goods and How Do You Ship Them?

Shipping dangerous goods (also known as hazardous material or hazmat) is a complicated undertaking when traveling domestically. If your operations ship on a global scale, it can become even more challenging. Shipping dangerous goods across the globe comes with its own set of rules and regulations that must be followed. There are different specifications required for different types of items, and each country has its own policies on hazardous materials. These goods can vary widely, but include lithium batteries, and battery powered devices, aerosols, oxygen cylinders, and flammable materials.

The US Department of Transportation (US DOT) requires that you be trained and certified before you ship hazardous materials. The requirements include packaging and labeling of hazardous materials as well as providing proper documentation. There are fines for non-compliance and potential legal action if you are found to have ignored hazardous materials shipping regulations. Most dangerous goods are defined internationally by IATA (The International Air Transport Association), the international organization regulating air travel, although some shippers have slightly different rules. Because of these complications you might want to consider partnering with a third-party logistics provider (3PL) who will take care of all the necessary requirements to make sure your dangerous goods are shipped properly. This post will help you better understand what dangerous goods are and explain some best practices for shipping them. If you still have questions a 3PL partner would be a good resource for advice for your businesses individual needs.

Identify the Dangerous Good

First, you need to correctly identify what type of dangerous good you are planning to send, as there are different restrictions on goods depending on its classification. Keep in mind there are many items which could be difficult to classify as “dangerous” as they may not be dangerous by themselves, but do contain a dangerous component.

There are nine classes of dangerous goods, as well as a few sub-classes. The below information breaks them down by category.

Certain types of dangerous goods could be banned from certain countries, so you should confirm that you can import what you are sending before you proceed. Although a country may accept these dangerous goods, there’s still a possibility that there are no carriers would be willing to ship the goods there. Shippers usually provide a list of dangerous items including aerosols, weapons, and flammable materials which are often regulated by import countries and air freight providers, so make sure you know if your shipment contains any of these before you send it.

Some Dangerous Goods Can’t Be Shipped by Air

Due to IATA’s dangerous goods list, many products can’t be shipped via air freight. These goods would then need to be shipped via ground freight. While this will be a much cheaper option for you, it will take a lot longer for the customer to receive their products. Certain batteries, such as standalone power packs and disconnected batteries, are a problem for many shippers. If you are shipping batteries, always research beforehand what the shipping limits are, as they change often, can put people at risk, and can also land your company fines from foreign governments who are cracking down on undeclared dangerous goods shipments. Being unaware of the rules and regulations is not an acceptable reason for errors when shipping dangerous goods. You have to make sure you are in compliance with the law when shipping these goods.

Double Check Your Documentation

Getting the documentation right when sending a dangerous goods shipment is important, and also the key to ensuring your shipment goes smoothly. When making a dangerous goods shipment, ensure that all dangerous items are declared in your air waybill and commercial invoice under “Item Description”. Any errors in this documentation can lead to massive delays at customs.

Most dangerous goods shipments need a hazard label identifying the risk coming from the package, and a UN-number identifying the type of dangerous good in the shipment. Potential hazards are usually identified in the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), also called a Material Safety Data Sheet, or MSDS. If you are shipping aerosols, batteries, or a fragile container your shipment will also require additional stickers and labels to show this on the box. All hazard labels should be clear and easy for anyone to see.

Source: Federal Aviation Administration

Pack Your Goods Carefully

One of the main reasons dangerous goods are classified as “dangerous” is the risk they pose to those transporting the goods. Pack your orders carefully to ensure that no damage comes to the products during transit and that those handling the package are safe from harm. Whether it’s a laptop computer or liquids, make sure that your shipment is padded well. If your packaging is not adequate enough, it may cause delays to your shipment.

There may be different rules for each shipper concerning your dangerous goods, depending on the amount you are carrying.

Consider Splitting Your Shipments

If claiming your shipment as dangerous goods is something you want to avoid altogether, you could ask your shipper if it is possible to split your shipment. If this is an option, it can save you a lot of time as you will not have to deal with dangerous goods documentation, and goods will not have to undergo special procedures in order to be shipped. In some cases, sending multiple shipments as a normal goods shipment may be cheaper than one dangerous goods shipment. This is common in the case of mobile phones and notebook computers, where it is possible to make your shipment smaller than the threshold. However, this option is not risk-free. It could end up being more troublesome and inefficient for you because shippers can impose limitations not only on the number of dangerous goods per shipment, but also on the number of dangerous goods shipments per day. That could mean you would end up having to arrange multiple shipments over several days.

Be Prepared to Pay Additional Handling Fees

All shippers add an additional surcharge for dangerous goods/HazMat materials, due to the extra risks involved with handling and processing them. There are usually two categories that the shippers will put dangerous goods into when assessing surcharges.

  • Accessible Dangerous Goods (ADG): The content of package must be accessible during transit for security reasons.
  • Inaccessible Dangerous Goods (IDG): The content of package does not have to be accessed during transit and can be mixed with other freight.

Accessible dangerous goods often have a higher surcharge. For example, with FedEx Express U.S. package shipments containing accessible dangerous goods, the surcharge is $115 per package. For shipments containing inaccessible dangerous goods, the surcharge is $51.50 per package. For UPS accessible dangerous goods domestic shipments incur a $93 surcharge, while inaccessible dangerous goods have a surcharge of $46.50. Insurance for dangerous goods is also more expensive due to the added risk of handling them. Some shippers require you to take insurance on your shipment to cover both the shipper’s health and safety risk, and can even refuse to cover your shipment for any damage which may occur in transit.

Bottom Line

There are many things to be aware of when shipping dangerous goods. As long as you do your research, have secure packaging, complete documentation, and correct labelling you will experience less obstacles and delays when transporting shipments containing hazardous substances. Partnering with a 3PL is another way to avoid the hassle with figuring out all of the rules and regulations required to handle dangerous goods.

If you are looking for a 3PL partner with experience in dangerous goods regulation and compliance, we would love to hear from you. You can read DCL’s list of services to learn more about what we do, or check out the many companies we work with. Send us a note to connect about how we can help your company grow.