Hazmat shipping guide


Shipping hazardous Goods

: Everything you need to know.

With the dangers and restrictions that come when handling and shipping hazardous materials, it is important to have a clear understanding of the following to ensure the safety of your hazmat packages and those handling them:

  • What are hazardous goods?
  • What you need to do to ship hazardous goods
  • Special cases of shipping variations of dangerous goods
  • USPS: New hazmat mailing standards
  • Consequences for non-compliance
  • Carrier resources

What are hazardous goods? 

According to the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) Manual, “Dangerous goods (also known as hazardous materials, or hazmat) are articles or substances which are capable of posing a hazard to health, safety, property, or the environment.” Because these products pose a serious danger and require a tremendous amount of care and attention, it’s important to know and be able to identify what constitutes a hazardous good.

The following are several examples of hazardous materials:

  • Aerosol spray receptacles
  • Ammunition and gun powders
  • Carbon dioxide canisters and cylinders
  • Dry ice
  • Fuels
  • Lighters and matches
  • Lithium batteries
  • Oxygen tanks
  • Smoke detectors
  • Wood treatment products

This is just a shortlist of examples; there are many more hazardous goods than the ones listed above.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates the transportation of materials in the United States (US). DOT’s specific regulations decide what makes the list of hazardous materials and specify how to conduct every aspect of shipping hazardous materials. The prerequisites and entire process of sending a hazardous good may appear excessive, but these stipulations are necessary to ensure the proper and safe transportation of dangerous products.

What you need to do to ship hazardous goods 

  • If you are a shipper of goods internationally or domestically, it is your responsibility to know whether those products are classified as hazmat and to communicate their dangers appropriately via labels, markings, and shipping papers.
  • Dangerous goods training is required to ship hazardous material. This training is necessary because many people don’t know how to identify hazardous materials and what processes are required to ensure the safe handling, shipment, and delivery of hazardous goods. Learn more about dangerous goods training.

Shipping domestically in the US

Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the Department of Transportation’s regulations for transporting hazardous materials via the U.S. road system. The steps required to ship hazmat domestically in the US are as follows:

  • Determine whether a consumer product is hazardous or not.

    • Find the safety data sheet (SDS), which is prepared by the manufacturer. The SDS, formerly referred to as the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), can usually be found on the manufacturer's website or by searching the product name and “SDS” or “MSDS.”
    • The SDS includes a transportation hazard classification for the product, which provides a four-digit identification (ID) number, a proper shipping name, the hazard class, and the packing group for the product.

Zonos' custom graphic showing the hazardous materials

  • Refer to the SDS information to correctly fill out the Hazardous material table (shown above).

    • The classification or division of a product will determine the packaging, marking, labeling, and shipping paper requirements.
  • Pack, mark, and label your hazardous goods.

    • Packaging: Depending on the materials and amounts you want to ship performance packaging, or United Nations (UN) standard packaging, may be required. UN packaging indicates that the packaging has been tested and certified by a Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)-approved agency. The PHMSA has created a guide to identify and understand performance packaging markings. Be sure to follow all manufacturer regulations and instructions.
    • Marking and labeling: Place the necessary hazard labels on your package. This may include the shipper’s information, ID number, and/or hazard class labels.
  • Work with your carrier of choice.

    • You should be in contact with your carrier to ensure that all information is accurate and to check for additional carrier requirements. This will help guarantee the quick and safe arrival of your package.

Shipping internationally

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is the trade association for the world’s airlines and works closely with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to provide regulations for shipping hazardous materials internationally. The steps required to ship hazmat internationally are as follows:

  • Identify, prep, and declare hazardous goods for shipment.

    • Identification: Identification and paperwork for international shipments of hazardous goods are much more extensive than domestic.
    • Preparation: The package must be adequately prepared for transport, which includes all of the steps in the previous section (Shipping domestically in the US).
    • Declaration: Shippers must complete a Dangerous Goods Declaration (shown below), which certifies that the shipment has been labeled, packaged, and declared according to IATA's DGR.
  • The dangerous goods checklist must be completed by an operator. The operator, or carrier, is responsible for transporting the goods to their destination.

    • An operator uses the dangerous goods checklist to ensure the shipper’s submission complies with the DGR.
  • Operators are responsible for loading hazardous packages onto their respective trucks, boats, or planes to ensure their proper transportation.

    • While operators are loading, it is crucial to store and load specific hazardous goods apart from each other. Hazardous goods can never be stored or shipped next to food items. The operator must confirm the package’s security along with the other items being shipped. This is imperative so that the packages don’t move around during transport, which can result in damaged packages or much worse.
More info about IATA

IATA provides a much more detailed list of how to complete all the procedures required to ship hazardous goods.

Special cases for shipping dangerous goods 

IATA references

All references to IATA sections or instructions below can be found here.

There are several dangerous goods special cases that either require further or fewer regulations. These variations include de minimis quantities, consumer commodities, limited quantities, excepted quantities, and infectious substances like dry ice and lithium batteries. These variations determine the necessary requirements for shipping and are discussed in further detail below.

De minimis quantities

De minimis quantities, in this case, refers to the threshold amount of hazmat in a shipment. When a hazmat commodity is under the de minimis threshold (1mL for liquids and 1g for solids per each inner package), possible shipping variations may be required, but the shipment needs to be correctly identified by the shipper. If the hazmat shipment meets the following stipulations, then it’s subject to different regulations:

  • Must be shipped in accordance with IATA 2.6.10.
  • The maximum net quantity of the material per each inner package is limited to 1ml/~0.033 fluid oz. for liquids and 1g/~0.035 oz. for solids.
  • The provisions of sections 2.6.5 and 2.6.6 are met.
  • The maximum net quantity per total package of dangerous goods does not exceed 100 ml/~3.38 fluid oz. for liquids and 100g/~3.53 oz. for solids.

Consumer commodities

Consumer commodities are hazardous materials packaged in a form intended or suitable for retail sale. Domestically shipped consumer commodities fall under the class of Other Regulated Material (ORM-D) according to the U.S. DOT regulations. Internationally shipped consumer commodities fall under Class 9 (Miscellaneous- doesn’t fit the qualifications of any other class).

Consumer commodity shipments must:

  • have a rectangular ORM-D marking for domestic shipments or "ORM-D Air" for domestic shipments by UPS Air or USPS
  • have a class 9 miscellaneous hazard label for international shipments
  • follow packing instructions Y963 for consumer commodity shipments
  • have "consumer commodity” marking and labeling

Consumer commodity shipments are exempt from:

  • Placarding of trucks
  • A signed shippers certification for ground shipments
  • UN approved packaging

Limited quantities

There is a UN Dangerous Goods List that has more than 2,000 entries of the most frequently transported dangerous goods. Section 7a of the list indicates the maximum amount per inner packaging that qualifies hazmat as a limited quantity shipment.

Limited quantity shipments must:

  • be shipped under the Limited Quantity Provision of subsection 2.7
  • be marked with the limited quantities mark
  • follow packing instructions Y963 for Limited Quantity shipments.

Limited quantity shipments are exempt from:

  • UN specification performance-oriented packaging
  • Hazmat markings
  • Hazard labels
  • Hazard placards
  • Shipping papers and emergency response information (needed regardless of quantity for air transportation).

Excepted quantities

Section 7b of the UN Dangerous Goods List provides a code that can be referenced to specify the maximum quantity per inner and outer packaging for hazmat items that qualify as an excepted quantities shipment.

Excepted quantity shipments must:

  • be shipped in accordance with IATA 2.6.
  • be packaged so that the maximum quantity in individual inner packaging complies with the limits specified for Excepted Quantities according to the class, division, and packing group, or as specified for a particular entry

Excepted quantity shipments are exempt from:

  • Hazmat dangerous goods markings
  • Hazmat goods labelings
  • Dangerous goods documentation
  • Normal dangerous goods loading requirements

Infectious substances

Infectious substances are substances containing microorganisms that are known or reasonably expected to cause disease in humans or animals. There are specific stipulations when shipping infectious substances. The substances must be shipped using IATA instructions 3.6.2.

  • Dry ice shipped by itself as a refrigerant: Use IATA packing instruction 954.
  • Lithium batteries: Although lithium batteries are a popular source of energy, they are also dangerous goods that need to be prepared in accordance with transport regulations.

USPS: New hazmat mailing standards 

  • Postal Service's interim issued some new mailing standards regarding hazmat on Monday, June 6. These mailing standards require the separation of hazmat in the mail. The rules go into effect immediately but allow for a 30-day comment period, which USPS will review and can implement changes if necessary. See the full Federal Register notice with the new requirements.
  • All commercial mailers handling hazmat must separate the hazardous from non-hazardous and present hazmat in a separate container, hazmat has to be in its own container.
  • Lithium batteries in pre-owned, damaged, and defective electronic devices must go on surface transportation, they are no longer allowed on commercial airlines because of the risks they pose.

Note: Only preowned, damaged, or defective electronic devices with lithium batteries must go on surface transportation. The regulation does not apply to new cellphones shipping out from the original manufacturers or their authorized sellers. Regular rules remain such as, labeling or non-labeling requirements for these devices.

  • USPS is allowing a 90-day grace period before the new standards must be implemented, after the alotted time consequences will be enforced. USPS wants to work collaboratively with stakeholders; however, anyone not working in good faith would warrant stricter treatment and review by Inspection Service.
  • USPS is working on some other changes and rules around hazardous materials and safety over the next six-seven months, mostly concerning service type codes (STC) in the intelligent mail parcel barcode and packages entered at retail counters.

Consequences for non-compliance 

Civil penalties

Section 107.329 of Title 49 CFR states that a person who knowingly violates a requirement of the Federal hazardous material transportation law or a similar offense can face a civil penalty of up to 84,425 USD. However, the maximum civil penalty is 196,992 USD for violations that result in death, severe injury, serious illness, or substantial destruction of property. The minimum civil penalty is 508 USD for training violations. If the violation continues, each occurrence of the violation necessitates a separate offense.

Criminal penalties

Section 107.333 of Title 49 CFR states that a person who knowingly violates a requirement of the Federal hazardous material transportation law or a similar offense can face a criminal penalty of the maximum civil penalties (previous paragraph) in addition to up to five years in prison. If the violation involves the release of hazardous material and results in death or bodily injury, the maximum prison time is ten years.

To avoid these fines, refer to the legal requirements clearly defined by the CFR and IATA in the training and responsibilities section when shipping hazmat.

Carrier resources 

Throughout the entire process of prepping and shipping hazardous goods, shippers should be in close contact with their carriers. This will ensure that accurate information and additional requirements are complete. Carriers assist in the careful and safe arrival of dangerous goods. The following are various carrier resources for hazmat shipping:

  1. FedEx: How to Ship Dangerous Goods | FedEx
  2. UPS: Guide for Transporting Hazardous Materials and Goods | UPS
  3. DHL: Dangerous Goods | DHL Global Forwarding
  4. USPS: Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Mail | Postal Explorer


Hazardous goods are no joke. The danger they could cause is real, and the severity of the penalties reflects that. The importance of following the regulations put forth by the Department of Transportation and the International Air Transport Association cannot be overstated.

Frequently asked questions 

Who offers dangerous goods training? How do I become dangerous goods certified?

IATA offers DGR courses and diplomas to help you stay up to date with the latest industry regulations and procedures to ensure your dangerous goods shipments comply with industry standards. IATA has an industry-recognized DGR Manual, which will assist you in gaining your certificate to handle dangerous goods shipments.

How long does it take to complete my Dangerous Goods Training?

First, you must receive initial dangerous goods training, which is for anyone who has not received previous training or for employees whose previous training certificate has expired. Then you must take revalidation training every two years for Dangerous Goods by Air, and three years on all other courses.


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