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6 Keys to Safe Hazmat Shipping

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Confused from all the rules and regulations when shipping your hazardous materials? Use our guide as your compass to focus on what matters and build the right processes to ship these materials safely.
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How to Complete a Hazmat Bill of Lading

Shipping hazardous materials, or "hazmat shipping" as it's commonly known, requires keen attention to detail — and a bit of detective work. The name alone tells you how important it is. Packaging it correctly, handling it with care, being exact with quantities and getting the right classification for shipping it using less-than-truckload (LTL) services — all of this is critical to safely transporting hazardous freight shipments.

Hazmat shipping documents

You'll need two important documents to prepare your shipment for safe delivery: the bill of lading (BOL) and the product's Safety Data Sheet (SDS).

The BOL is the connecting piece to getting your shipment delivered. When filled out correctly, this contract between you and the freight carrier will help ensure a safe and timely delivery of your hazmat goods.

The SDS is a document completed by the manufacturer of the hazardous material. It's a great resource when completing the BOL. Your carrier or 3PL provider may ask for a copy to have on hand while transporting the product. It contains information on the product's:

  • Chemical properties
  • Physical and environmental health hazards
  • Safety precautions for handling, storing and transporting the materials
  • First aid and fire-fighting measures
  • Recommendations for appropriately responding to accidental spills, leaks or releases
  • Proper disposal

Help ensure safe delivery of hazmat shipments with high-performing technology

When you use SpeedShip®, our proprietary transportation management system (TMS), and indicate you're shipping a hazardous material, you'll be required to enter the information carriers need to transport your shipment. You can't book a hazmat shipment with any fields left blank or incomplete.

Here's another big benefit that will give you peace of mind: When you ship with WWEX, documents for any shipment, hazmat included, are kept in SpeedShip indefinitely. You can easily go back into a shipment's history and verify entered information or reprint documents at any time. That takes care of the requirement to retain hazmat shipping documents for two years.*

How to complete the hazmat bill of lading

You should use a standard BOL and complete the shipper and consignee information as you normally would for any shipment. On a paper BOL, mark the section labeled "Hazmat" or "H.M.," with a red X so it stands out. If you're creating a BOL electronically using a TMS, the box will be selected for you. Complete each field with the specific information about your hazmat shipment:

  • UN number. The four-digit number identifies the product's substance. You'll find it in the SDS.
  • Proper shipping name. This is specific to the product and must exactly match what is shown in the SDS.
  • Packaging group number. This number identifies the severity of danger when shipping hazmat goods. The packing group number can change for a commodity based on the quantity being shipped. For instance, a shipment of a smaller quantity with a packing group of III could jump to a packing group I if the quantity is increased. If you enter the wrong packing group number, the carrier could charge you a reclassification fee.

    Packaging group number
  • Hazmat class. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) categorizes hazmat products in nine classes:

    Hazmat class

Within these classes are subcategories. You'll enter the full hazmat class on the BOL. A great resource for identifying class numbers is ADR Book. The site gives other information you'll find useful, such as the type of label to apply to the container or the placard the driver puts on the truck, loading and unloading instructions, the kind of vehicle used to transport the product, and so on.

  • Type of handling unit. You'll know this field from standard shipments, but it's especially important for hazmat products. Some classes require specific packaging and packing methods for safety measures. You can find packing details with the ADR Book website.
  • Quantity of handling units. Carriers use this field to determine if the maximum limited quantity for the hazmat product is met or exceeded. ADR Book will show you the minimum and maximum limited quantity. Shipping hazmat products that exceed the maximum limited quantity amount is not allowed for safety precautions. You'll need to break up your shipments to stay below the product's maximum limited quantity. If you're shipping less than the minimum amount, you don't need to identify it as a hazmat shipment (which can save you money).
  • 24-hour emergency contact. You're required to identify the emergency response company you've contracted to stand in as your emergency contact for the shipment. No hazmat shipment can be moved without it. Companies like Chemtrec and Infotrac are professionally trained on DOT requirements to safely clean up after spillage or leakage and dispose of hazardous waste.

Common reasons for a denied hazmat shipment

Handing over a correct BOL is important for all shipments, but your stakes are especially high when shipping hazmat products. If your BOL is incomplete or inaccurate, you could find yourself with an abandoned load at your dock or the freight carrier's distribution center. You'll be left scrambling to find a different carrier willing to retrieve and deliver it. Be careful not to misrepresent your hazmat shipment. These hazmat products are commonly problematic:

  • Electronics with lithium batteries included. Sports massage guns and cell phones are recent examples of misidentified hazmat products.
  • Poisonous shipments, identified by class code 6 or with a subclass 6 shown in parentheses. Few freight carriers transport poisonous goods and will refuse the shipment if the BOL is incorrect and later identified as a class 6 hazmat shipment.
  • Common products that don't seem like hazmat products but include chemicals which make them hazardous, such as some perfumes and dish soap.

Questions to ask carriers or 3PLs when vetting for hazardous shipping

Our TMS identifies carriers who are professionally trained and licensed to ship hazmat products. But if you choose to line up carriers on your own or use a different 3PL, you should ask these questions:

  • Are your drivers and handlers trained in hazmat shipping?
  • Do you ship poisonous chemicals?
  • Do you have the proper placards needed for hazmat shipments?
  • Do your drivers inspect the BOL before leaving the shippers' dock to ensure accuracy and ability to move the shipments?
  • Do you have the equipment necessary to safely handle loading and unloading hazmat containers?
  • Do you use a high-performing TMS?
  • Do you have connections with emergency response companies?

Feel confident moving hazmat shipments with guidance from Worldwide Express

You can rest assured knowing we'll answer "yes" to all those questions. Worldwide Express has helped move hazmat shipments for more than three decades and we know what's required for safe transport. Plus, we have reliable freight carriers that we've vetted to ensure their professionalism and compliance with training and safety standards. Hazmat goods can be a shipping challenge. Contact us for a consultation and hear what we can do to turn your challenge into a shipping opportunity.

* "How to Ship Dangerous Goods," Federal Aviation Administration.