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Check the Box: Getting Started with Shipping Hazmat

Hazmatt figure inside cardboard box

Before you offer hazmat for shipment, you—the shipper—are responsible for properly classifying and packaging your material with the correct hazard communications (e.g., marks, labels, and shipping documentation). These general steps do not list all the requirements and are only meant to provide an overview of the hazmat shipping process. This list is not a substitute for training or reviewing applicable regulations.

Remember – if you need assistance with understanding hazmat transportation regulations, contact the Hazardous Materials Information Center by telephone at 1-800-467-4922 or 202-366-4488 or by e-mail at infocntr@dot.gov

    Step 1 Classify the Hazardous waste material and locate it on the hazardous material table

As a starting point, look up the product’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS). Most consumer products that come from reputable manufacturers will have a SDS that includes a transportation hazard classification for the product. This classification provides a four-digit ID number, a proper shipping name, the hazard class, and the packing group for the product. Use this information to identify the correct entry on the Hazardous Materials Table.

The Hazardous Materials Table contains references to the appropriate packaging sections, certain quantity limitations, and any special provisions or exceptions. The table also contains the label codes and basic description for the hazmat. Obtaining the correct hazard classification is the most important part of getting started with shipping hazmat. All other requirements, including packaging, marks, labels, and shipping paper requirements, will be based on the hazard classification of a product. The DOT hazmat regulations provide classification criteria that manufacturers, shippers, and others can use to classify hazardous material. Certain types of hazmat require PHMSA’s approval of the classification determination prior to shipment (e.g., explosives). 

Step 2 Determine quantities and select packaging

Select the appropriate packaging based on the amount of hazmat you are looking to ship. Be sure to use the packaging section specified for your material. Depending on the hazmat and quantities, performance packaging (UN Standard or DOT-Specification packaging) may be required. PHMSA has created a guide to identifying and understanding performance packaging markings.

Step 3 Package your material

Package your hazmat according to the packaging requirements in the regulations. If performance packaging is required, you must follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to assemble and close the packaging. This includes using the specified inner and outer packagings and closure materials, as applicable. Performance packaging is specifically designed and tested to contain hazmat. Deviating from the manufacturer’s instructions could compromise the integrity of the packaging and result in a release of hazmat.

Step 4 Mark and label your packages

Apply the appropriate hazard communication to your package. This can include, but is not limited to, orientation arrows, shipper’s information, identification number and proper shipping name markings, and hazard class labels.

Step 5 Prepare a shipping paper

If required, prepare a shipping paper that contains a description of the hazmat, including the UN identification number, proper shipping name, hazard class, and packing group, quantity, number and type of packages, emergency contact information, and a shipper’s certification. Additional information may be required, depending on the material to be transported.

Step 6 Offer your package to your carrier of choice

Be sure to work closely with your carrier to identify any additional carrier requirements to ensure that your package arrives at its destination quickly and safely. Please note that as a government agency, DOT does not endorse or recommend a specific vendor.


* The U.S. Department of Transportation has established specific transportation hazard classification criteria for materials based on their chemical and physical properties (e.g., flammability, corrosivity, toxicity). Be sure to identify any hazards when sending products using the mail or other shipping services. It is your responsibility to know whether the product is hazardous and to communicate those hazards appropriately! CAUTION: An SDS may contain incorrect information, and it is ultimately the responsibility of the shipper to classify the product correctly. If you are the manufacturer of your product and you are also the initial shipper, then you must provide the correct hazard classification. This is usually accomplished through testing.

Updated: Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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