Shipping Hazardous Materials Safely

Shipping hazardous materials requires more attention to detail than transporting regular goods. The changes in paperwork and procedures since Sept. 11 have further complicated an already convoluted process. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the International Air Transport Association govern hazmat shipping at the federal and global levels, but transport buyers may encounter additional requirements issued by local agencies and individual carriers. Brad Cook, UPS director of dangerous goods, offers the following advice for moving temperamental cargo safely and efficiently.

1. Classify before you try to ship. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires the manufacturer of any product to develop a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) identifying the material’s physical properties and risks associated with exposure. Keeping accurate data on your shipment’s contents eases the process.

2. Understand your distribution environment. Identify which transportation modes will deliver your products to their destination and determine the required regulatory steps.

3. Know the regulations. Complex requirements govern each transportation mode, and the rules may vary in different locations. Compliance is critical; getting it wrong can translate into heavy fines, undelivered products, or lost market-share opportunities.

4. Package for protection. Proper packaging is key to the safe transport of hazardous materials. Leaking hazmat packages can pose serious risks to the safety of transportation workers and to the environment. Using suitable containers, sufficient cushioning, absorbent materials, and secure closures will keep hazmat where it belongs—inside the package.

5. Document everything. Detailed paperwork describing the contents of your shipment helps ensure proper handling and movement throughout its journey. When in doubt, spell it out.

6. Mark and label all shipments. Let every involved party know, prior to actually handling the package, that the contents carry inherent risks if involved in a fire or accident. Remove all unrelated markings and labeling so that handlers only see relevant information.

7. Invest in training. Anyone associated with offering and transporting hazardous materials must be trained for job-specific responsibilities. Public seminars are available to teach shippers about hazardous materials regulations, but ultimately, employers are responsible for ensuring each worker’s training and certification.

8. Beware of changes to the rules. In today’s heightened state of security, the regulations associated with shipping hazardous materials constantly evolve. Get up-to-date information through your carrier, hazardous material supply vendors, industry organizations, or from the DOT’s web site:

9. Know your carrier. Many carriers have specific requirements and/or limitations regarding hazardous materials. Before offering a shipment for transportation, familiarize yourself with the carrier’s rules, as well as its technology capabilities.

10. Stay connected. Establish clear communication with your carrier. If your product changes, disclose any discrepancies or variations from the norm.

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