Signing Hazmat Shipping Papers in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted on 4/17/2020 by Roger Marks

Unless you’re Stretch Armstrong, you can’t sign hazmat shipping papers from six feet away—the recommended "social distance" to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19.

If you're wondering what regulators expect from shippers offering hazardous materials for transport during this time–you're not alone.

The US DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has received many inquiries in recent weeks regarding the exchange of shipping papers for hazardous materials shipments. In a memo released on April 10, PHMSA provides some alternative methods for signing hazmat shipping papers to meet your regulatory responsibility and maintain a safe distance from others.

Read the full PHMSA memo on shipping papers here

First, the Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR) make it clear that shipping papers “must be legibly signed by a principal, officer, partner, or employee of the shipper or his agent” and that shipping papers can be signed “manually, by typewriter, or by other mechanical means.” (49 CFR 172.204(d).
PHMSA’s suggestions for satisfying this requirement during the pandemic are:
  • Physically attaching the document to a clipboard and placing it on a table and stepping away while the paper is signed; or
  • Sending the document via email or other means of electronic communication.
A shipper may also ask another person to sign the shipping papers on his or her behalf. This request can be made electronically, by email or text.

Soon, this challenge may be solved for good: In 2019, DOT PHMSA and Transport Canada teamed up to launch a three-year “sandbox program” to study replacing paper hazardous materials shipping papers with electronic documentation.

The Importance of Hazmat Shipping Papers

What does a signature on a manifest mean? It’s much more than handing over custody to the driver. In addition to certifying the generator is meeting the applicable conditions found at 40 CFR 262.27 (e.g., they have a waste minimization plan in place and have chosen the best TSDF), the DOT part of the statement is as follows:
“I hereby declare that the contents of this consignment are fully and accurately  described above by the proper shipping name, and are classified, packaged, marked and labeled/placarded, and are in all respects in proper condition for transport according to applicable international and national governmental regulations…”
In order to certify this is true, the signer must be fully trained on the DOT hazmat regulations. US DOT requires hazmat employees – anyone whose actions can directly affect transportation safety – to be trained. The elements of training include general awareness, function-specific and security awareness training. (Some hazmat employees also need safety training and cargo security plan training).

Filling out and signing shipping papers most certainly affects transportation safety and is considered a function-specific element of hazmat training. [See 49 CFR 172, Subpart H]

In a letter of interpretation addressed to Lion Technology founder Bill Taggart, PHMSA put it like this: 
“Since the employee certifies that the materials are properly classified, described, packaged, marked and labeled and in proper condition for shipment, the employee must receive function-specific training that ensures they are knowledgeable in those areas and can determine that a shipment is in compliance with the requirements of the HMR, in addition to general awareness/familiarization [training].”

Read the full letter. 

Stay Home. Stay Certified. 

Keep your hazardous materials expertise sharp and your DOT certification up to date. At, find comprehensive online courses that cover the latest 49 CFR, IATA DGR, and IMDG Code regulations you must know to ship by ground, air, or vessel. Complete hazmat training on your own schedule, at your own pace, and in your own home. 

Browse hazmat courses. 

Tags: coronavirus, covid19, hazardous materials, hazmat shipping, shipping papers

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