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  June 6th, 2023 | Written by

Best Practices for Shipping Dangerous Goods Globally

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Every day in the United States, a staggering amount of hazardous materials is transported, totaling millions of tons. As many as 800,000 hazmat shipments occur daily, amounting to a massive annual total of over 3.1 billion tons. Based on the latest numbers, approximately 1.25 million dangerous goods are shipped by air annually. 

While most shipments reach their destinations safely, accidents can still occur. Some pose minimal risks, while others can have severe effects.

Hazardous materials are not limited to transportation by road. They are also commonly transported via railroad. Large-scale hazmat spills can occur in the unfortunate event of a train derailment, leading to devastating environmental consequences and drastic risks. 

When a spill involving hazardous materials takes place, it consists of the release of a substance that has the potential to endanger health, safety, and property. 

While transporting hazardous materials is essential for various industries, it is crucial to prioritize safety measures and implement best practices to prevent and mitigate accidents. 

Understanding the Classification and Identification of Dangerous Goods

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The United Nations (UN) has developed the UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods as a global framework for classifying, labeling, and documenting dangerous goods.

Classes of Dangerous Goods

These goods are categorized into different classes based on their inherent hazards, as follows: 

  1. Class 1: Explosives: This class includes materials and substances that have explosive properties, like fireworks, ammunition, dynamite, and blasting agents. These goods can cause significant damage and pose a high risk to people and property.
  2. Class 2: Gases: Gases that are flammable, non-flammable, or toxic fall under this class. Examples include propane, oxygen, helium, and carbon dioxide. 
  3. Class 3: Flammable liquids: This class includes gasoline, ethanol, acetone, and diesel fuel. These flammable liquids have a low flashpoint and can release flammable vapors, making them potentially hazardous during transportation.
  4. Class 4: Flammable solids: Flammable solids can ignite readily and sustain combustion. These materials, including matches, magnesium, and certain metal powders, can pose fire hazards and require proper packaging and handling to prevent accidental ignition.
  5. Class 5: Oxidizing substances: These chemicals release oxygen and can cause or contribute to the combustion of other materials. Dangerous goods under this class include hydrogen peroxide, potassium permanganate, and ammonium nitrate. 
  6. Class 6: Toxic and infectious substances: This class includes toxic materials to humans, animals, or the environment. It comprises toxic chemicals, pesticides, medical waste, and contagious substances like bacteria and viruses. Proper containment and precautions are necessary to prevent exposure and contamination.
  7. Class 7: Radioactive materials: These dangerous goods emit ionizing radiation and can harm human health and the environment. The typical shipment under this class includes uranium, plutonium, and medical isotopes used in nuclear medicine. These materials require specialized packaging and handling to minimize radiation exposure.
  8. Class 8: Corrosive substances: These are chemicals that can cause damage to living tissue or other materials upon contact. Sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, and caustic soda belong to this class of dangerous goods. 
  9. Class 9: Miscellaneous dangerous goods: This class includes hazardous goods that do not fall into the previous classes but still pose risks during transportation. Examples include lithium batteries, magnetized materials, and environmentally dangerous substances. 

Since each class requires specific precautions and packaging, shipments must follow these classifications. This ensures the proper handling and transportation of dangerous goods. 

Tips for Global Shipping of Dangerous Goods

Here’s how to safely ship dangerous goods globally.

Use certified packaging

Certified packaging prevents leaks, spills, or accidents during transportation. Different types of packaging are required for each class of dangerous goods, such as UN-certified drums, cylinders, or boxes. These packages are designed to withstand the specific hazards associated with each class.

Image taken from  Royal Chemical 

Packaging standards and testing ensure that the packaging meets the necessary safety requirements. For example, UN packaging must undergo rigorous testing, including drop, vibration, and pressure tests, to ensure its integrity.

Ensure proper handling and storage

Proper handling procedures are critical to preventing accidents and ensuring the safe transportation of dangerous goods. This includes following guidelines for loading, unloading, and securing the goods. Training employees on proper handling techniques and providing them with personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential for their safety.

Moreover, dangerous goods often have specific storage requirements to prevent reactions, leaks, or contamination. Proper segregation, temperature control, and ventilation are necessary to minimize risks. Emergency response procedures, such as spill containment kits or fire suppression systems, are crucial to addressing any incidents swiftly and effectively.

Maintain documentation

Accurate documentation is a vital aspect of shipping dangerous goods globally. Shipping staff must complete and maintain documentation, including shipping manifests, declarations, and emergency response instructions. 

These documents provide essential information about the goods, associated hazards, and appropriate handling procedures. One example is the Bill of Lading (BOL). This document must have the signatures of both the shipper and the driver assigned to pick up the freight. 

Documentation plays a significant role in regulatory compliance, facilitates communication with authorities, and ensures transparency throughout shipping.

Consider transport modes and regulations

Different transport modes, such as air, maritime, and road, have specific regulations for shipping dangerous goods.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regulations are necessary for air transport. The International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code regulates maritime transport. Road transport is under the jurisdiction of national and international regulations, like the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) regulations.

Understanding and complying with these regulations is crucial to ensuring the safe and legal transportation of dangerous goods. Examples of such regulations include packaging requirements, labeling, placarding, and vehicle marking.

Confirm international compliance

Global shipping of dangerous goods requires verifying international compliance. Regulations may vary between countries. Organizations must understand and adhere to the specific requirements of each destination. You must address differences in language, customs procedures, and regulatory frameworks that can present challenges.

International agreements, such as the UN Model Regulations, facilitate harmonization and consistency in dangerous goods transportation. These agreements help establish common standards and practices among countries, simplifying the shipping process. Collaborating with experienced customs brokers, freight forwarders, and regulatory consultants can provide valuable guidance and assistance in navigating international compliance.

Follow Regulations and Best Practices for the Global Shipping of Dangerous Goods

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You must adhere to regulations and best practices to ensure the safe and secure international transportation of dangerous goods. Following proper classification and identification, using certified packaging, following correct handling and storage procedures, maintaining accurate documentation, considering transport mode regulations, and confirming international compliance are key steps in mitigating risks.

By prioritizing safety and adhering to these best practices, companies can protect their employees, the public, and the environment. At the same time, it facilitates the smooth flow of global trade. Stay updated with evolving regulations and industry standards to maintain compliance and continuously improve the shipping process.

Remember, safety must always be the top priority when shipping dangerous goods. Following best practices ensures the well-being of all involved and contributes to a safer and more sustainable global supply chain.


I have been a technology and business writer since 2015 working with companies like SmallBizClub, StartupNation, Namecheap and Time Doctor. I have loved writing my whole life and being in business development has given me a unique perspective. I’m obsessed with our constantly evolving fast-paced society and finding new ways to integrate that into amazing content that teaches the readers something new.