9 Tips For Hazardous Materials Transportation

9 Tips For Hazardous Materials Transportation

Transporting any cargo part of a hazardous goods list requires a process that must comply with strict federal, state, and local regulations. Most assume this has to do with bio-waste or radioactive materials, but even products like nail polish and aerosol cans are considered hazmat.

Because of the potential harm posed, the transportation of hazardous materials or hazmat freight demands a high level of training and attention to detail. From identifying what is considered hazardous material to classifying cargo according to hazardous goods transportation categories, let’s take a look at best practices and shipping regulations for dangerous materials.

What Are Hazmat Products?

So, what is considered hazmat? The United States government offers the following definition:

“Hazardous materials are substances or chemicals that pose a health hazard, a physical hazard, or harm to the environment. Hazardous materials are defined and regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).”

What Is Considered Hazardous Material?

What are hazardous materials for shipping? Hazardous materials, often abbreviated to HAZMAT, are any substances, quantities, or forms like toxic chemicals, fuels, nuclear waste products, and biological, chemical, and radiological agents. These types of hazardous materials may be released as gasses, liquids, solids, or a combination or form of all three, including dust, fumes, gas, vapor, mist, and smoke.

If hazmat spills, it may cause health problems and even death in people and animals, meaning it poses an incredibly high risk to the natural and built environment, with the potential to ruin buildings, homes, and property.

What Is Hazmat Shipping?

Transportation of hazardous materials

Hazmat shipping is the transportation of hazardous materials that require special handling processes to minimize risk. While most associate this with gas and nuclear waste, it includes ordinary items like paint, dry shampoo, perfume, batteries, and e-cigarettes.

DOT Hazmat Classes

The Department of Transport (DOT) outlines hazardous goods transport categories into nine hazard classes with different types of risk. DOT hazmat classes are classified based on their potential health effects, whether acute or chronic.

  • Class 1 | Explosives: Products that possess the ability to alight or detonate during a chemical reaction.
  • Class 2 | Gasses: Any gas that is flammable and can be toxic or corrosive.
  • Class 3 |  Flammable liquids: Volatile and combustible; these pose a high risk of ignition during transportation.
  • Class 4 | Flammable solids:  Combustible products that often contribute to fires during transportation.
  • Class 5 | Oxidizing agents & organic peroxides: These products have a high oxygen content, making them extremely reactive and typically difficult to extinguish if a fire breaks out.
  • Class 6 |  Toxins and infectious substances: Any product liable to cause death upon contact with skin, inhalation, or ingestion.
  • Class 7 | Radioactive material: Harmful exposure to radioactive material can be deadly to all living organisms.
  • Class 8 |  Corrosives:  Products with the ability to degrade materials and harm humans, animals, and the environment.
  • Class 9 | Miscellaneous dangerous goods: Any substances that present a danger not covered in other classes, like marine pollutants and asbestos, for example.
Dangerous goods shipping regulations

Which Authorities Regulate the Transport of Hazardous Materials?

Shipping regulations for hazardous materials in the United States are controlled by the Department of Transportation (DOT) under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, enacted in 1975. DOT establishes the regulations and training requirements for hazmat transportation by land, water, and air. These requirements can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), 49 CFR parts 100-105.

The US Postal Service (USPS) regulates the transport of hazardous materials mailed to, from, or within the US. These regulations can be found in 39 CFR. Lastly, through the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for regulating the packing and labeling of specimens that may contain bio-hazardous materials. These organizations are tasked with promoting and upholding dangerous goods shipping regulations through effective and safe management processes and systems.

Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR)

To minimize risks, the USDOT has issued specific requirements for hazmat shipments called The Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR). These regulations govern the transportation of hazardous materials interstate, intrastate, and in foreign commerce. Any person offering hazmat transportation is required to comply.(The Hazardous Materials Regulations) (HMR)

9 Rules to Remember for Hazmat Transportation

Some examples of dangerous goods are lithium batteries, fireworks, dry-ice, lighters, paint, gasoline-powered engines, and machinery. Following Cowtown Express's tips for hazardous shipping cargo, like the above-mentioned, can safeguard life and property.

Classify the Material

When shipping hazmat materials, a Product Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is provided to whoever is handling the dangerous materials. By law, the suppliers of chemicals are required to provide shippers with an up-to-date safety data sheet. An SDS guides how products should be handled.

All Safety Data Sheets must include information like the properties of each chemical, its hazards, and guidance on PPE, first aid, and spill clean-up procedures. Once a product is classified, it should be correctly and clearly labeled according to hazardous cargo classifications.


Different types of hazardous materials each have specific packaging requirements. Packaging usually has to be certified and tested to meet travel requirements, especially if materials travel by air. Packing must be constructed and closed in a manner that prevents loss of contents according to manufacturer specifications.

Any packaging variation from the manufacturer’s instructions could compromise the material’s integrity and violate the law. Part 173 of 49 CFR lists general requirements applicable to hazmat packaging. For example, some hazardous materials should be stored in drums. Whether these are steel, aluminum, or plastic will, of course, depend on the liquid.

Correct Method of Transportation

Hazmat goods must be packed in such a way that poses no threat during their freight journey and ensures the materials arrive in good condition. These materials are extremely sensitive to changes in humidity, temperature, condensation, and moisture, which is why their shipping containers must be airtight.

For example, when it comes to hazmat waste, there are four different types: listened, characteristic, universal, and mixed. Each is suited to different container types, with the most widely used being plastic or metal open and closed top drums and IBC containers.  When combined with regular cargo during shipping, hazmat must be placed within easy access to ensure rapid removal if there’s an emergency.

Hazmat Transportation Specialist

Shipping of hazardous materials requires a special qualification from the US Department of Transportation. Training includes the general familiarization of hazmat materials, in-depth security training, and driver training. According to the Federal hazardous materials transportation law, all hazmat employees must undergo training to increase safety and minimize risk.

If you are shipping hazmat, you will need to hire a transportation company that’s hazmat-compliant and certified. This is an absolute necessity, given the dangerous nature and high risk associated with shipping hazmat materials. A certified company will know how to ship hazmat, ensuring maximum safety and greater peace of mind.

Emergency Plan

How to ship hazmat

Undergoing government-issued training equips staff with the necessary skills to handle any emergencies during hazmat transportation. The importance of training cannot be understated. If your team is properly trained, they will be able to identify, mitigate, and report any potential hazards that could lead to more serious emergencies if not taken care of.

Hazmat safety regulations are taken very seriously by authorities and exist to keep everyone and the environment safe. As such, companies and individuals who violate federal hazardous laws can be fined up to $75,000.

Availability of PPE

It is the employer’s responsibility to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to their workers and ensure its proper use when work practices are unfeasible or do not provide sufficient protection. PPE helps staff remain healthy, despite exposure to hazmat, and prevents harm if accidents occur.

From respirators to full-body hazmat suits and respirators, there are many kinds of PPE available to safely handle all hazardous shipping classes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has several guidelines on PPE selection and usage. Any organization using PPE should implement a program to address hazards presented and explain PPE’s proper usage.

Safety Data Sheet (SDSs)

SDSs are a standard element of hazardous cargo shipping. These data sheets are provided by hazmat manufacturers and contain vital information about chemical components, storage conditions, proper classification, and PPE guidelines. An SDS is used to prepare a chemical risk assessment for workplaces, communicate hazards, and ensure protection measures are taken.

An SDS must adhere to a specific 16-section format according to SDS authoring, and be up-to-date. If you are not satisfied with the version provided, it is perfectly acceptable to request another from your supplier. It’s important to check SDSs, even when familiar with handling a product, as there may be revisions, which affect handling processes.

Storage of Hazmat

Regardless of where material falls on the list of dangerous goods for shipping, it's packing, transportation mode and storage must follow HMR. When it comes to storage, hazmat materials should be kept in a ventilated, dry area that maintains consistent temperatures.

Storage facilities need to be strictly controlled to avoid extreme heat or cold, which can ignite substances. Storage facilities should be structurally secure and safe from fire or water damage. It’s best if they’re located in the earthquake and tsunami-free zones.

Keeping Clean

Handling dangerous materials leaves little margin for error. OSHA regulations stipulate that where hazmat is handled, all isles and passages should be clear, in good shape, and with no obstructions that could cause harm. Hazmat containers should be stored in tiers that are stable and secure against sliding or collapse.

Additionally, all areas and PPE should be kept free from the accumulation of materials that constitute tripping, fire, explosion, or pest harborage habits. It’s important to keep the workplace clean and in compliance with hazmat standards. Employees should follow all health protocols and monitor the workplace to ensure it’s safe at all times.


Knowing how to ship hazardous materials is imperative to ensure everyone’s safety. As you can discern, it’s a complex and detailed process that’s best left to trained professionals. Our DFW trucking company has decades of experience and knows exactly what to do to ensure the safe delivery of hazmat freight. Our transportation of hazardous chemicals by road is fast and compliant. Get a freight transportation quote for advice on shipping your dangerous cargo.

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