The shipping of hazardous materials is a discipline all its own, demanding special certification. When it comes to air freight shipping of hazardous goods, it’s important to understand whether that shipment includes hazmat, also called “dangerous goods.” If it does, you’ll have to follow very specific regulations on packaging, labeling and documentation.
What is hazardous freight?
Simply put, hazardous freight contains materials that could harm people or property during transport.
Several organizations regulate the transportation of hazmat, including the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Regulators around the world use a list created by the United Nations to classify hazardous materials in nine categories: explosives, gases, flammable liquids, flammable solids, oxidizers and infective substances, radioactive materials, corrosives, and various materials classed as “miscellaneous.”
If you ship drums of industrial chemicals, boxes of fireworks or cylinders of oxygen, you already know those are dangerous items. But many everyday products also contain hazardous materials. Think of hairspray (aerosol cans contain gas), hand sanitizer (flammable), oil-based paint (also flammable) or a camera with lithium batteries (which sometimes catch fire or explode). An item might sit quietly on a shelf in your home for years, but when it’s time to put a product just like it on a plane, you need to reckon with the fact that it poses a danger.
Hazmat shipping by air – the basics
Any company that ships hazardous goods, by any mode, needs a hazmat expert on staff – an employee with enough special training to earn a hazmat certification. That person knows how to identify and classify hazardous goods, package and label them correctly, handle them safely and complete paperwork known as the dangerous goods declaration (DGD).
Much of the information used to prepare for air freight shipping of hazardous goods comes from the safety data sheet (SDS), a document supplied by the product’s manufacturer. The SDS give you an in-depth analysis of the product and the dangers it poses, with instructions for responding to spills, fires, explosions or other incidents the substance might cause, including first aid and cleanup. The document also defines the product’s hazmat classification, based on the UN’s list, and might give instructions for transportation.
Precise requirements for packaging and labeling depend on the hazmat classification. Based on his or her training, a company’s hazmat expert should know how to prepare a compliant shipment. The rules can vary based not only on what you’re shipping, but also on how much you’re shipping, and in what kinds of containers. For instance, there could be one set of requirements when you ship 50-gallon drums of a liquid, and a different set when you ship small bottles of the same liquid, packed in cartons.
Although many hazmat regulations are the same for all modes of transportation, there are some important differences. For example, some hazardous products are never allowed on planes, even though they’re legal to transport on a ship or in a truck. Some products are allowed on all-cargo planes, but not on passenger aircraft.
The document that accompanies a hazmat shipment by air is the IATA Shipper’s Declaration for Dangerous Goods. This one-page form asks for details about the scheduled flight and the shipment, including information on the class of hazard, quantities, packaging and special handling instructions. It also includes contact information for the person first responders will call for more information in case of a leak, spill or other emergency.
Since you’ll need to transport the shipment over the road to the airport and the final destination, you will include information from the Shipper’s Declaration onto the trucker’s Bill of Lading. The trucking company must have the proper permit in place for the hazmat shipment, and the driver will need a license with a hazmat endorsement. The driver is responsible for ensuring that proper placards are affixed to the truck to indicate the type of hazardous material on board.
If a forwarder provides your air freight services, that partner will review your paperwork for accuracy and submit it to the airline and trucking company. But it cannot complete or sign the declaration or Bill of Lading. Your in-house expert must do that.
What if you get the details wrong?
If you misclassify, mislabel or mispackage shipments of hazardous materials, the worst thing that could happen would be truly bad indeed. Incorrect packaging could increase the risk that the product will explode, catch fire, release toxic gas or pose other dangers mid-flight, possibly triggering a disaster. An incorrect declaration or label could leave first responders without information they need in the event of an accident.
In the best-case scenario, the airline catches the mistake and rejects your shipment. Then you’ll spend time and money correcting the error. If you mislabel a pallet-load of cartons, for example, you’ll have to get the pallet transported to a facility where a service provider can break it down and relabel each box. Then you might have to book your freight on a different flight.
The cost of air freight shipping of hazardous goods
Air freight rates for hazardous shipments are higher than for ordinary cargo. There’s just no getting around that. You won’t see the extra expense as a surcharge; the airline will simply charge more per kilo than it would for a non-hazardous shipment.
If you’re shipping cargo that’s not allowed to fly on passenger aircraft, you’ll pay even more, since rates for all-cargo flights are always higher.
Bring in the experts
When you plan to ship hazardous cargo by air, the first and most important step is to hire a certified hazmat professional, or get someone on your staff trained to take that role. No one – not a supplier, not a logistics company, not the airline’s personnel – can assume that responsibility on your behalf.
The other key step is to find an experienced transportation partner to give you advice, review your documentation and work out a cost-effective solution for your hazardous shipment. Contact I.C.E. Transport to learn more about removing the risk from hazmat air freight.