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Shipping Regulations Overview

The primary goal of hazardous materials shipping regulations is to promote a safety program that will minimize the risks to life and property inherent in commercial transportation of hazardous materials. In order to help companies comply with the regulations, we've put together a primer about the regulations (below) as well as a how-to guide to compliance for companies shipping hazardous materials.



Regulatory Summary

There are multiple regulations a shipper of hazardous materials needs to know. We will provide a quick overview of the most essential regulations in the United States – the 49 CFR – and also touch on a series of regulations that are important in the international community.


49 CFR

What It Is

The Code of Federal Regulations, Title 49, governs the domestic transportation of hazardous materials for all modes of transport to, from, and within the United States.


Who Is Responsible For It

Title 49 is composed of nine volumes. The volumes containing Parts 100-185 for the transportation of hazardous materials are overseen by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.


What It Says

The 49 CFR addresses key protocols for preparing, shipping, and handling dangerous goods. Any person handling dangerous goods should read, understand, and comply with all elements of the 49 CFR. Some of the highlights include:

  • The description of hazardous materials by class, including explosives, gases, flammable and combustible liquids and solids, poisons, radioactive materials, and corrosive agents.
  • The amount of hazardous materials permitted in certain primary containers as well as the total volume per shipped package.
  • The types of packages and packaging required to safely transport hazardous materials.
  • Testing requirements needed to reach specific performance standards.
  • The documentation required when shipping hazardous materials.
  • The markings and labels required on packaging and the placards required by the carrier.
  • Training and safety plan requirements.


For each type of hazardous material, there are specific rules, and it is the role of the shipper to understand the requirements. In particular, Part 173.22 outlines the shipper’s responsibility inpreparing hazardous materials for transportation. Among other things, the shipper must ensure:

  • The product is classified and described properly.
  • The package or container is an authorized package including being manufactured, assembled, packed, and marked in accordance to regulations.
  • The package has met all the testing requirements listed in Part 178.


Where to Find It

You can find the entire 49 CFR at Phmsa.dot.gov/regulations.



United Nations Model Regulations

What it is

Outside the United States, the UN Model Regulations provide international guidelines regarding all aspects of transporting dangerous goods. International rules do not always harmonize with U.S. regulations, so it’s important to understand these UN guidelines if you are shipping goods outside the United States. The UN Model Regulations are not obligatory or legally binding within individual countries, but they have gained a wide degree of international acceptance.


Who is responsible for it

The UN Regulations are created by the Transport of Dangerous Goods sub-committee of the United Nations Economic and Social Council.


What it says

As with the 49 CFR, the UN Regulations outline the packaging, labeling, and handling requirements for shipping dangerous goods.


The UN framework has been adopted and modified by other organizations. For example:

  • The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has developed regulations for the air transport of hazardous materials. ICAO is the regulatory body for all international air shipments of dangerous goods.
  • The International Air Transport Association (IATA) builds on the UN/ICAO rules and incorporates individual airline and governmental requirements into their Dangerous Goods Regulations document.
  • The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the regulatory body for all shipments of dangerous goods on the high seas.


Where to find it

View and order copies of the UN Model Regulations at Unece.org/trans/danger/danger.html.



Common Mistakes

There are many pitfalls companies can encounter when shipping dangerous goods.  Some mistakes include a failure to:

  • Understand the regulations related to variation packaging and the corresponding “4GV Mark.” Ignorance is not bliss when dangerous goods are involved.
  • Ship the package as it was tested. Each approved packaging solution must be used in exactly the same configuration as what was originally tested.
  • Use a leakproof bag when shipping liquids. Special bags are required in conjunction with rigid containers when shipping liquids by air.
  • Use enough cushioning or absorbent material. A dangerous goods packaging system only works when all of the intended components are present. Cushioning and absorbents are necessary parts of certain systems.
  • Pressure-test primary or secondary packaging when liquid material is to be shipped by air. Not all packages are suitable for air transport.
  • Close the container with the proper torque or follow closing instructions. Packaging systems are designed and tested to work with specific closing torque. Not following torque or other closing instructions can violate the integrity of the entire system.
  • Make complete declarations on shipping papers. Airlines and other carriers need to know what they are transporting to ensure safety.
  • Train employees (and keep training certifications current). There are rigorous training standards for all employees involved in handling dangerous goods.


How well a company is prepared to avoid making mistakes depends on their understanding of the regulatory environment as well as the integrity of their internal processes and controls.