When it comes to dangerous materials, shipping requires much more attention than simply tossing items into a box. One of the most common questions CLS receives is, “How do I ship hazardous materials (HAZMAT)?” This is often followed by “How do I ship lithium batteries?”
The short answer is very carefully.
Incorrect packaging and improper handling of hazardous materials can be dangerous -- even deadly -- not to mention extremely expensive. Failure to comply with HAZMAT shipping regulations results in significant fines for the individual and organization that prepared the shipment -- as much as $10,000 per incident.
Training and Certification for HAZMAT Shipping Staff
The best way to ensure compliance with all relevant HAZMAT shipping regulations is for shipping and warehouse management staff to complete appropriate training and certification classes. These courses typically begin with a general Department of Transportation (DOT) Safety and Security Awareness module, then move on to method/material-specific training. For example, those working with air shipments require IATA certification, and individuals working with ocean shipments require IMDG certification. Shippers preparing packages for ground transport must be certified in DOT 49 CFR (highway) regulations.
Certified shippers sign off on every shipment, indicating their pledge that the packages contain the materials described in the related documentation. The signature indicates that items are packaged according to safety requirements, and all appropriate labels have been affixed to the shipment. By signing, shippers take personal responsibility for the shipment, which means they can be personally liable for any fines assessed due to errors.
Handling Lithium Batteries: Small Shipments vs. Large Shipments
In small quantities, lithium batteries are not considered dangerous goods. (These are the batteries used in cell phones.) Packages containing lithium require very little extra attention before they are handed off to carriers. Generally, small amounts of lithium batteries are sent through ground transportation. Shippers must affix a warning label and safe handling instructions placard, but no additional paperwork is necessary.
Larger quantities of lithium batteries meet the definition of dangerous goods/HAZMAT - particularly when shipped by air - and a list of additional requirements applies. Full information on the package contents must be sent with the shipment, including the material’s technical name, shipping name and details on how it is packed.
Shippers must list the amount of the material included in the shipment, the type of packaging materials used and any technical requirements associated with handling the lithium batteries. Once this information has been compiled, shippers must sign off on the documents, which then travel with the shipment to the final destination.
Note that carriers such as UPS and FedEx do not permit the shipment of hazardous materials without prior authorization. These sorts of shipments must be discussed in advance and included in shipping contracts before carriers will agree to handle them. Safety is a top priority for these businesses, and they will insist that individuals preparing the packages be fully trained and certified.
Shipping HAZMAT Safely
Training and certification is the best way to ensure that dangerous goods/HAZMAT and lithium batteries are transported safely. Through appropriate training, shippers gain a clear understanding of which materials are permitted on passenger aircraft, which must be transported on cargo aircraft and which are not approved to fly at all. Failure to observe safety regulations can cause serious injury - even death - making appropriate instruction a must.
After all, there are far too many types of HAZMAT to risk improvisation. Businesses that make up their packaging as they go often discover that it is easy to make a mistake - and hard to regain the trust of suppliers and clients when fines and injuries are involved.