PHMSA Hazmat Policy: Classification of Safety Devices

Posted on 10/13/2022 by Roger Marks

US DOT PHMSA recently published and requested public comment on its policy for shipping safety devices like those used in cars, aircraft, and vessels.

In short, safety devices like seatbelt pretensioners, airbag modules, and airbag inflators may be shipped as Class 9 hazardous materials if they meet certain criteria. Devices that don’t meet the criteria must be shipped as Division 1.4G explosive materials (Details).

While Class 9 safety devices are subject to regulation, they are excepted from some of the requirements for labeling, marking, shipping papers, EX approvals, and more that apply to Division 1.4G explosives. 

In addition to stricter regulations, shippers face limitations when offering safety devices classified as 1.4G materials; 1.4G materials may not be shipped in bulk quantities and may not be transported by a train or plane carrying passengers.

PHMSA will accept comments on the policy described below until November 14, 2022. 

What is PHMSA’s Policy on Safety Devices?

The Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) define “safety device” this way:

‘‘articles which contain pyrotechnic substances or hazardous materials of other classes and are used in vehicles, vessels or aircraft to enhance safety to persons.’

[49 CFR 173.166, Emphasis ours]

Because the definition is written this way, safety devices that are not used in a vehicle, vessel, or aircraft—a device that stops a table saw to prevent injury is an example PHMSA provides—are not eligible for potential relief as Class 9 materials.

From the Notice published on October 13:

“Therefore, if an article is intended to enhance the safety to persons, but is not used in a vehicle, vessel, or aircraft, it cannot be considered an eligible device under 173.166 at this time.”

[87 FR 62179, Oct. 13, 2022]

Online Course: Shipping Automotive Airbags and Other Safety Devices

New Guidance: Safety Device Subcomponents

PHMSA’s October 13 Notice also addresses pyrotechnic subcomponents of safety devices, and whether subcomponents may be shipped as Class 9. Once such “subcomponent” is the micro gas generator (MGG) that creates a burst of gas to tighten a seatbelt during a crash.

Under 49 CFR 173.166(b), shippers may apply for approval of an article to be shipped as a Class 9 safety device (UN3268).

However, PHMSA now says that subcomponents shipped by themselves are unlikely to qualify for the relief afforded to completed safety devices.

This new guidance supersedes two previous interpretations, No. 18-0113 and No. 18-0035. Both interpretations stated that, yes, some subcomponents may be shipped as Class 9 safety devices when they satisfy specific testing criteria.

PHMSA receives requests to allow certain subcomponents to be shipped as Class 9, but: 

“To date, PHMSA has not received requests to approve any subcomponents that would enhance safety to persons in vehicles, vessels, or aircraft sufficient to outweigh the risks presented by transporting those subcomponents as Class 9 (UN3268) safety devices...”

[87 FR 62179, Oct. 13, 2022]

Classifying Hazmat Safety Devices

In the past, the proper shipping name shippers used to describe a safety device listed three specific types of devices—air bag inflators, air bag modules, and seat belt pretensioners.

In 2015, US DOT revised the naming convention for safety devices to harmonize US regulations with changing international standards. Since that rulemaking (HM-215M) took effect, safety devices must be described for transportation in one of two ways:

  • UN3268, Safety devices, electrically initiated, 9

  • UN0503, Safety devices, pyrotechnic, 1.4G 

The Hazard Class 9 shipping name may be used for safety devices that pass specific testing criteria (found in Special Provision 160) and have been certified by a PHMSA-approved explosives testing lab.

Safety devices that qualify as Class 9 hazardous materials are excepted from the more stringent labeling, marking, and shipping paper requirements that apply to explosive materials (1.4G).

Training to Ship Hazmat Safety Devices

The Shipping Airbags and Other Automotive Safety Devices online course prepares shippers to ensure compliance with detailed US and international regulations for classifying, packaging, marking, labeling, and documenting shipments of safety devices like airbag inflators, airbag modules, and seatbelt pretensioners.

Access training from any internet connection, stop and start as needed to fit your schedule, and receive a trusted Certificate from Lion Technology when you complete the course.

PHMSA Hazmat Policy: Classification of Safety Devices

Tags: hazmat shipping, PHMSA, safety devices

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