Building the Perfect Hazmat Basic Description
Because this document is used to communicate information that has the potential to prevent catastrophe and even save lives in the event of a hazmat incident, it is crucial that you know how to fill it out completely and accurately. That starts with crafting the perfect basic description for the hazardous material or article you need to ship.
What’s in a DOT Hazmat Basic Description?The hazmat Basic Description is the core element of the shipping paper. For each hazardous material in a shipment, the shipping paper must include a description. Every basic description must include the following elements, in order and with minimal variation [49 CFR 172.202(a)]:
2. Proper Shipping Name (may need to supplement with technical name)
3. Hazard Class or Division number with subsidiary Hazard Class or Division number in parentheses (if applicable)
4. Packing Group (by roman numeral, if applicable)
Where to Find the Hazmat Basic Description Elements in 49 CFRYou can find all of the pieces of information above in the Hazardous Material Table at 49 CFR 172.101.Often, useful information for basic descriptions can also be found on a Safety Data Sheet (SDS). That said, before using an SDS for basic description information, make sure the what’s on your SDS is accurate and complete.
Identification numbers and Proper Shipping Names are paired in the 172.101 Table. One ID number may be associated with multiple proper shipping names, but each Proper Shipping Name will only ever be associated with one number.
There are three packing groups (I, II, and III), but articles, gases, and certain other materials aren’t assigned packing groups.
Modifying Your Basic Description—What Is Allowed?While the order of hazmat basic description elements is hard-and-fast, DOT does allow shippers to take some poetic license with how they communicate the basic description on shipping papers. The following are all DOT-approved modifications to hazmat basic descriptions:
- You may, but do not have to, write the word “CLASS” or “DIVISION” preceding the number in the description. (e.g., UN1790; Hydrofluoric acid; Class 8 (Division 6.1); II).
- You may, but do not have to, write the name(s) of the hazard class(es) or division(s) after the number itself, or at the end of the basic description. (e.g., UN1203, Gasoline, 3 Flammable liquid, PG II or UN 1203, Gasoline, 3, II, Flammable liquid)
- You may, but do not have to, write “PG” preceding packing group numeral in the description.
- You may, but do not have to, include the italicized text after the Roman type Proper Shipping Name as listed in the Hazardous Material Table at 49 CFR 172.101. (e.g., Paint related material including paint thinning, drying, removing, or reducing compound may simply be called Paint related material).
- You may, but do not have to, include appropriate modifiers such as “contains” or “containing” and/or the percentage of the constituent the actual percentage instead of the range as listed in the table. (e.g., UN1993; Flammable Liquids, n.o.s.; 3; PG II (containing xylene and heptane) or UN1993; Flammable Liquids, n.o.s. (15% xylene and 15% heptane); 3; PG II).
Additional Information in Hazmat Basic DescriptionsWe’re not done with basic descriptions yet! DOT also requires additional information that must appear “in association with” your hazmat basic description. “In association with” means appearing on the shipping paper either before or after the basic description.
Info that must appear in association with the basic description on all shipping papers:
- Total quantity of material required [49 CFR 172.202(a)(5)]
- Number and type of packagings required [49 CFR 172.202(a)(7)]
- Technical names for generic Proper Shipping Names (“G” in column 1 of the Hazardous Material Table). [49 CFR 172.203(k)] For a mixture or solution with two or more hazardous materials, include the technical names of at least two components most predominately contributing to the hazards.
- The letters “RQ” for hazardous substances. [49 CFR 172.203(c)]
- The words “RESIDUE: LAST CONTAINED ***” are mandatory for empty tank cars, optional for all other packagings. [49 CFR 172.203(e)]
- The words “MARINE POLLUTANT” for marine pollutants [49 CFR 172.203(l)]
- “Poison-Inhalation Hazard” or “Toxic-Inhalation Hazard” and hazard zone for materials poisonous by inhalation. [49 CFR172.203(m)]
- The word “waste” for hazardous wastes as defined in 49 CFR 171.8 unless the word "waste" is already a part of the name. [49 CFR 172.101(c)(9)]
Basic Descriptions for Elevated-temperature Materials and Limited QuantitiesThere are two special situations that require you to include specific wording associated with your basic description:
- Elevated-temperature materials must have the word “HOT” either immediately BEFORE or AFTER the Proper Shipping Name within the basic description. [49 CFR 172.203(n)]
- On the rare occasion that shipping papers are required for limited quantity shipments, the words “LIMITED QUANTITY” or “LTD QTY" must appear FOLLOWING the basic description.[49 CFR 172.203(b)]
In addition, getting your basic description right will protect your business from some of the most common reasons for DOT hazmat penalties. Civil penalties for hazmat shipping mistakes are now as high as $77,114 per day, per violation.
Don’t miss expert-led 49 CFR, IATA DGR, and IMDG Code training when it comes to your area in April. Build a step-by-step process for keeping your hazmat shipments in compliance with the latest requirements. Whether you ship hazmat every day or just once in a while, knowing your responsibilities is crucial to avoid rejection, costly customs delays, and DOT fines now as high as $77,114 per day, per violation.
Next Month: DG Shipper Training in Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, and more!
The Complete Multimodal Hazmat Shipper Certification Workshops will be presented in Denver on April 3-6, Kansas City on April 24-28, and Chicago on May 2-5.
Or attend only the days you need!
DOT Hazmat Training for Ground Shippers
IATA DGR Training for Air Shippers
IMDG Code Training for Vessel Shippers
Tags: 49CFR, DOT, hazmat shipping, PHMSA, shipping papers
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Use this guide to help meet your OSH Act responsibilities to provide a safe, healthy workplace during a public health crisis.