Protect Your Package: Hazmat and the Rigors of Transport

Posted on 8/18/2015 by Robert Clarke

While hazardous materials pose certain risks when stored and used in a warehouse or manufacturing environment, the risks are greatly amplified when hazmat is put in motion along the supply chain. Every day, hazardous materials (known internationally as dangerous goods) are transported in 18-wheelers and tanker trucks on roads and highways, aboard freight and passenger airplanes, and in shipping containers on the open seas.

To mitigate the danger posed by hazardous materials in transit, domestic and international regulatory agencies set explicit requirements for preparing these shipments. For US shippers, there are three major sets of regulations to account for when shipping hazmat: the US Department of Transportation's Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR Parts 171–181 et al.), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) for air shipments, and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code for vessel shipments.

One major element all three sets of regulations share is hazmat packaging requirements. In order to ship most types and quantities of hazmat by ground, air, or vessel, the shipper must first select an "authorized packaging"—a package that's been designed and tested to meet standards set by a competent authority. Choosing the right packaging can be the difference between a safe shipment that arrives on time and an incident in transit that endangers the public and destroys product.

Hazmat vs. the "Rigors of Transport"

The multimodal hazmat packaging regulations are based on a simple principle: Packages need to endure the transport process without degradation of their capabilities. The hazmat in the package must stay in the package under conditions normal to whatever mode of transport is used. Such conditions—the "rigors of transport"—include changes in temperature, pressure, and humidity and shocks that occur in transit.

49 CFR ground, IATA air, and IMDG vessel hazmat shipping

Hazmat vs. Extreme Temperatures

Although the US DOT hazmat rules at 49 CFR do not provide a temperature range standard for hazmat packagings, IATA requires packages used for hazmat air shipments to be able to withstand temperatures from –40°C (–40°F) to 55°C (130°F). [IATA DGR] Certain hazardous materials, especially liquids, can expand at freezing or elevated temperatures—think the extreme low outside air temperatures common at high altitudes or the runway of Phoenix, Arizona's Sky Harbor International Airport in July. To prevent hazmat from leaking from a packaging, hazmat employees who package the shipment must leave adequate space to allow for expansion.

Hazmat vs. Low Pressure in Aircraft

Hazmat shippers must also account for changes in pressure—especially during air transport. The cargo hold of an aircraft may not be pressurized to standard ground pressure the way the cabin is. In fact, the pressure during air transport may be as low as 75% below standard ground pressure. [IATA DGR] Liquids in inner receptacles (like bottles in a box) can burst or leak their contents unless the packagings are designed, filled, closed, and secured properly.

Like extreme temperatures, changes in pressure can result in expansion of materials in their packagings. Packagers must leave "head room" to account for changes in pressure if the material is prone to expand.

Hazmat vs. Humidity

High levels of moisture in the air often occur during transport, especially transport by vessel in equatorial regions like Brazil and India. For this reason the IMDG Code requires that hazmat packages be able to resist failure due to moisture absorption. [IMDG] Standard UN-authorized packagings are designed to withstand moisture as well.

Hazmat vs. Shocks

Drops, impacts, and vibrations can occur during transport by any mode. Packages can fall off fork lifts, be dropped by handlers and loading dock workers, experience turbulence up to an equivalent of 8 g in the air, and encounter rough seas during vessel trips. [49 CFR 173.24, IATA, IMDG] If not accounted for during the hazmat packaging design and testing process, shocks normal to transportation can damage packagings and contribute to incidents and releases.


Safe, Compliant Hazmat Shipments

Your hazmat package may face a perilous journey, whether it travels by ground, air, or vessel. By understanding and following the US DOT, IATA, and IMDG Code packaging regulations, and considering the "rigors of transport" your package will face, your shipping team can ensure the shipment arrives safely and on time.

49 CFR, IATA, and IMDG Hazmat Shipper Certification Training

To prepare safe, compliant hazmat shipments, you need the knowledge and confidence to work with the latest 49 CFR, IATA, and IMDG regulations. Benefit from an engaging learning experience led by instructors who help uncover the real-world meaning of the regulations that affect your job. The Complete Multimodal Hazmat Shipper Workshops is presented in convenient locations nationwide—enroll now and get 365 days of complete on-the-job support, including access to the Finder Q&A service.

Tags: DOT, hazmat shipping, IATA, IMDG, packaging

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