Q. Why can’t I just follow the DOT rules for all modes of transport? Why are there separate rules for air and vessel?
A. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), under the authority granted by Congress in the Hazardous Material Transportation Act (HMTA), promulgates and enforces the Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR) that govern the safe and secure transportation of hazardous materials in the United States. The HMR are codified in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (49 CFR), Chapter I, Subchapter C, Parts 171-180. A material is subject to the Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR) when it is:
- Designated as hazardous by the Secretary of Transportation;
- Transported to, from, or through the United States;
- In commerce; and
- Transported by a regulated mode of transportation (railroad, aircraft, vessel, or motor vehicle on a public road). [49 CFR 171.1]
All four criteria must be met for the HMR to apply.
While the HMR do include some rules that apply only to certain modes of transportation, most of the regulations apply equally to all modes. Domestic and International Hazmat ShipmentsThe DOT does have rules for each mode of transport. However, from a practical standpoint, there is a good chance you will not follow DOT’s air and vessel rules.
When dangerous goods (or even non-hazardous materials) are moved across international boundaries, they must comply with the regulations of multiple countries. The shipment must follow the regulations of the countries of origin and destination, and sometimes the rules from each country of transit or the carrier’s home country.
Because a multiplicity of different rule sets would burden international commerce, the governments of the world have agreed on harmonized international standards. These international standards are codified in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Technical Instructions for transport by air and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, for transport by vessel.
The U.S. DOT authorizes shipments of hazardous material to follow these international standards, in lieu of 49 CFR, for transport by aircraft or vessel respectively. [49 CFR 171, Subpart C] Public safety regulators in most other countries have similar authorizations.
IATA Is ICAO Plus
Air shipments can be confusing. In most cases, you will end up following the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations, rather than 49 CFR or the ICAO Technical Instructions. This is perfectly legal, as the IATA regulations are nothing more than the ICAO instructions with additional safety precautions added by the air carriers themselves, reformatted to be easier to read. Therefore, any shipment or package that complies with all applicable IATA rules is already in full compliance with the ICAO rules.
At this point, you may think that the ICAO and IMDG hazmat rules apply only to international shipments. This is not the case. The DOT authorizes shippers and carriers to use international regulations for domestic shipments when all or part of the transport will be by aircraft or vessel. Air and vessel carriers tend to be globalized businesses, which have an interest in setting worldwide standards. Consequently, many operators will insist that shippers follow international standards for domestic shipments whenever the DOT allows and will refuse all DOT-air or DOT-vessel shipments. This is a business practice, not an enforceable regulation.
As a final note, if you do end up using the IATA DGR or IMDG Code for your air or vessel shipments, there are still some extra DOT requirements that must be met. These can be found at 49 CFR 171.23-171.25. They include, but are not limited to, requirements for emergency response info, U.S. training standards, and registration requirements.
How Do I Learn the Domestic and International Hazmat Rules?