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HazMat 101: Paperwork Requirements to Ensure Successful Shipping

It goes without saying that the stakes are higher when you ship dangerous materials.

Typical freight shipments come with their own set of obstacles, indeed, but with hazmat freight shipping, having your ducks in a row is critically important to ensure safety, as well as to avoid civil penalties, delays, and damage to your company’s reputation.

One of the most frequently cited safety violations of the 49 CFR Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) is the failure of the shipper to describe the hazardous material on the shipping paper properly. It’s crucial to start on the right foot with proper documentation, so here’s what you need to know about paperwork for shipping hazardous materials:

What are hazardous materials?

A hazardous material is any item that can harm people, living organisms, property, or the environment if it’s improperly shipped, stored, or handled.

Some examples of hazardous materials that require hazmat freight shipping include explosives, compressed gases, dry ice, liquid nitrogen, nail polish, radioactive materials, pesticides, corrosives, and mercury thermometers. Per the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), there are nine hazardous materials classes, ranging from Class 1 explosives like fireworks to Class 9 miscellaneous items like lithium-ion batteries and first-aid kits.  

USDOT requires that personnel shipping hazardous materials must be trained and certified beforehand. Even when outsourcing shipping, you must correctly package and label the materials, and provide all the required documentation.

Note: For an exhaustive list of Hazardous Materials Regulations, refer to government resources.

What needs to be included in hazmat freight shipping papers?

To avoid the consequences of improper paperwork, you must include certain items in your shipping papers. As long as it contains the proper information, your hazmat bill of lading can serve as the shipping papers.

Key items to include: 

  • A basic description includes four parts, which must be referred to in a particular sequence and can be found by referencing the Hazardous Materials Table. A useful mnemonic device for remembering the items required and the sequence is the acronym “ISHP” (which sounds like “I ship”):
    • Identification Number
    • Proper Shipping Name
    • Hazard class
    • Packing group (when applicable)
  • Additional information and descriptions. These may include: 
    • Total quantity by mass or volume 
    • Number and type of packaging used
    • The item’s technical name
    • Labels such as “Organic Peroxides,” “Waste,” “Radioactive Material,” and “HOT” (for liquid elevated temperature materials)
  • Certification information is a signed statement that certifies the materials are correctly  classified, described, packaged, marked, and labeled, and that they are in proper condition for transportation. 
  • Date. Record the date that a carrier accepts the hazardous material, and keep a hard or electronic copy of the paperwork for a minimum of two years.
  • Emergency contact and phone number.
  • Emergency response information, which can be used by emergency responders if there is an incident involving the hazardous materials. It may include the item's basic description, immediate health or safety hazards, and immediate precautions and safety and first-aid measures.

Note: For more detailed information on what information to include in your shipping papers, refer to the HMR, Title 49 CFR Parts 100-185.

Consequences of improperly processed paperwork

With hazmat freight shipping, having improperly processed paperwork can lead to some pretty severe consequences.

  • Civil penalties for violations of the 49 CFR Hazardous Materials Regulations can range from a minimum of $508 for certain training violations to nearly $200,000 for breaches of hazmat transportations laws that result in death, serious injury or illness, or substantial property destruction. The maximum penalty for a training violation is close to $85,000.
  • Lost time. The time you’ll spend correcting paperwork errors can come at a steep cost: delayed shipments, refocusing resources to deal with the mistakes, and/or hiring additional personnel to help fix the errors.
  • Investigations into one shipment could cause all of your shipments to be halted, resulting in unhappy clients and lost revenue.
  • Damage to your reputation. Your clients’ trust is one of the most precious things you have. Improperly processed paperwork can lead to a loss of that trust, which means a hit to your business relationships and bottom line.

Ensuring complete, correct hazmat shipping paperwork

To be successful in freight and logistics and maintain your clients' trust, proper paperwork is essential. Working with a strategic partner with extensive hazmat paperwork experience will mitigate the high stakes involved in hazmat transportation.

At DDC FPO, our experience goes well beyond general freight billing. In fact, we have a separate, specialized team dedicated to processing hazmat billing.

Because we know how steep the costs of improperly processed hazmat shipping paperwork can be, their training is even more rigorous and in-depth than our other teams’ training. These experienced, knowledgeable agents will make sure everything is complete and correct to ensure you’re abiding by every regulation and providing your customers with safety and reliability.

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DDC FPO has over 15 years of delivering success to the freight and logistics industry. Ready to explore our hazmat billing services? 


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