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Countdown to New, Tougher Lithium Battery Shipping Rules

Posted on 12/19/2014 by Roger Marks

(Update: PHMSA has extended the mandatory compliance date for ground shipments untl August 7, 2015) 

More manufacturers than ever now rely on the high-energy output and long life cycle of lithium batteries to power their products—from cameras and medical devices to laptops, cell phones, electric vehicles, and many more. Since the year 2000, production of these batteries has increased by about 1,000%. Shipments containing lithium batteries are now so common that noncompliant shipments have a place on the DOT’s “Frequently Cited Violations” list.

Starting in February 2015, businesses that ship lithium batteries must comply with new US DOT standards for preparing shipments or risk fines up to $75,000 per day, per violation. The new regulations change nearly every step of the shipping process, including classification, marking, labeling, and filling out shipping papers.

Under the new, tougher requirements, many shippers will be responsible for compliance with lithium battery shipping rules for the first time. These shippers may be unfamiliar with the hazmat regulations that apply to their products and packages. Under the DOT’s Hazardous Materials Regulations, all hazmat shipping employees must complete training on their hazmat safety responsibilities once every three years, including employees involved in shipping lithium batteries.

What Changed for Lithium Battery Shippers?

In the past, properly prepared ground shipments of up to 12 “small” lithium batteries (or 24 cells) qualified for significant relief from the hazmat shipping regulations. To harmonize US rules with international standards, the DOT has removed this exception for small lithium cells and batteries.

Under the new rules, a shipment of even a single small lithium cell by itself is subject to specific package marking and hazard documentation requirements. The only remaining blanket exclusion is for up to two batteries or four cells contained in equipment.

DOT’s method of determining the “size” of lithium ion batteries will also change; batteries will be measured by Watt-hour rating instead of the current DOT standard of “equivalent lithium content.” Lastly, the standards for lithium batteries will move from the special provisions to the DOT hazmat regulations at 49 CFR Part 173.

Shipping Lithium Batteries by Air

Businesses that ship lithium batteries by air are responsible for compliance with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations. The latest edition of IATA’s DGR (56th edition) includes new standards for lithium battery shipments, including new special provisions, revised packing instructions, and updated documentation requirements. Compliance with the 56th ed. DGR is mandatory starting January 1.

Get Up to Speed with Expert Training

To prepare shipping managers and employees for compliance with the latest rules for ground (49 CFR), air (IATA), and ocean (IMDG) transport, including new DOT and IATA regulations, an updated version of the popular Shipping Lithium Batteries Online Course is now live at Lion.com. Available 24/7, the updated online course is a convenient way for shipping managers and employees to learn the latest rules and satisfy US DOT’s training requirement for hazmat employees involved in shipping lithium batteries.

For training led by an expert Lion instructor, sign up for the live Shipping Lithium Batteries Webinar to be presented February 10, from 1 to 3 p.m. ET. The webinar is designed for shipping managers and employees who need an update on the new lithium battery rules for 2015. Lion.com webinars blend the interactive instruction of public workshops with the convenience and accessibility of online training. 

Tags: DOT, hazmat shipping, lithium batteries

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