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PHMSA Hazmat Enforcement Discretion on Packaging Tape

Posted on 5/4/2022 by Roger Marks

Citing supply chain challenges, US DOT PHMSA announced a policy of enforcement discretion for shippers who close a hazardous materials package with an adhesive tape other than the tape called for in the package manufacturer’s closure instructions. 

By “enforcement discretion,” the Agency means that inspectors are unlikely to cite shippers for violating the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) by using a non-specified brand or type of tape—provided the tape used demonstrates an equal or better level of safety. 

If a shipper cannot obtain the tape called for by the manufacturer’s instructions due to supply chain disruptions, alternative tape may be used. The shipper must document any deviation used to close and secure the packaging and keep that notation on file with the manufacturer’s written packing instructions. Instructions for closing the package with the alternative tape must be included.  

The notice of enforcement discretion is effective through August 31, 2022.

In PHMSA’s words:
“PHMSA will exercise regulatory enforcement discretion for an individual who, due to the supply chain shortages identified above, affixes to a packaging of hazardous materials a non-specified adhesive tape closure on UN Performance Oriented Packagings, provided the non-specified tape is:
  1. The same material as the tape in the original packaging test report;
  2. is capable of demonstrating no diminished capabilities in yield strength, thickness, ductility, width, length, or adhesive properties; and
  3. is compatible with the packaging. “
[05/02/22] Notice of Enforcement Discretion Regarding Packaging Tape

Why The Type of Tape Matters

UN rated packages are subject to rigorous testing before they can be marked with an approved UN marking. To ensure the package performs up to its tested rating, manufacturers provide detailed closure instructions with every package.

The Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) require shippers to follow those closure instructions, down to the last detail. That sometimes includes using the exact type of adhesive tape that the manufacturer used during package testing.

Why? Because the package passed performance testing using a specific type of tape. If a different type of tape had been used, the package may have failed the test. To ensure the package performs up to its rated capacity during transportation, shippers must use the same tape the manufacturer used.

Is Wider Tape a “Change in Design”?

The tape used to close the package is part of the package design. Therefore, using a type of tape not specified in the manufacturer instructions can constitute a “new package design.”   
If a package calls for a two-inch-wide strip of “XYZ tape” to secure the box, then using a one-inch-wide strip of XYZ tape is a violation of the packaging rules. Even using two one-inch-wide strips is a violation.   

But what if a shipper uses a four-inch-wide strip of XYZ tape? In 2018, PHMSA released an interpretation to clarify that using a wider strip of tape is not necessarily a violation of the HMR.

“Increasing the width of the tape from that specified in the packaging test report and closure notifications does not constitute a change in design,” PHMSA said in 2018, “provided the tape is otherwise of the same specification originally tested.” [Letter to Ben Barrett, 5/16/18].

To summarize: When you ship a hazardous material in a fiberboard box, the box must stay closed during the entire cycle of transportation. To make sure the package is securely closed, and stays closed, packaging manufacturers provide detailed closure instructions with every UN rated package.

Until August 31, shippers struggling to obtain the exact right type of specified tape for a UN rated package may use an alternative tape. The alternative tape used must provide an equal or better level of transportation safety, and any variation from the manufacturer’s instructions must be documented.  

PHMSA Hazmat Enforcement Discretion on Packaging Tape

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Tags: DOT compliance, hazmat enforcement, hazmat packaging, hazmat shipping, UN rated packaging

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