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Hazardous Products

If you are involved in the shipment of hazardous materials, there are several regulations you need to know about and follow. One of the most important steps you must take as a shipper is properly categorizing your hazardous materials. Assigning the proper category indicates that you have packaged the materials properly and communicates to carriers exactly what type of material you are shipping. This, in turn, allows them to take the proper steps to safely transport the load.

Categorizing your hazardous materials is also important in case of an emergency. If there is a spill or a leak, having your materials properly categorized ensures that first responders and emergency personnel can identify the hazardous materials and know exactly what they are dealing with. Proper categorization of hazardous materials helps keep everyone safe, so it is extremely important.

If you are involved in preparing hazardous materials for shipment, you need the valuable information we’ve put together here on how to categorize them.

hazardous material labels


In 2003, the United Nations adopted the Globally Harmonized System for Hazard Communication, or GHS. This system includes important criteria regarding the classification of materials that could present physical, health or environmental hazards. The GHS also specifies the exact information that must be included on the labels for hazardous chemicals and safety data sheets.

The United States was instrumental in the development of the GHS and is a member of the bodies that UN established to coordinate implementation and maintenance of the system.


Hazardous materials can be broken down into nine hazard classes. Defined in 49 CFR 172.101 and 172, they include explosives, gases, flammable and combustible liquids, flammable solids, oxidizing substances, organic peroxides, toxic substances and infectious substances, radioactive materials, corrosives and miscellaneous hazardous materials. Some of these hazard classes are further broken down based on their chemical or physical properties.

Here is a brief description of each category:

Class 1: Explosives

The explosives category includes any items or materials that can rapidly detonate or conflagrate as the result of a chemical reaction. This classification is broken down into six sub-divisions and includes things like ammunition, airbag inflators and fireworks.

Class 2: Gases

Substances with a vapor pressure of 300 kPa or greater at 50 degrees Celsius and those that are completely gaseous at standard atomic pressure at 20 degrees Celsius fall into the gases category. Items containing these substances are also categorized as class 2 hazardous materials. The classification is broken down into three sub-divisions that include several common items like aerosols, compressed cases, fire extinguishers, gas cartridges, natural gas and propane.

flammable liquids graphic

Class 3: Flammable Liquids

Flammable liquids have flashpoints of 60 to 65 degrees Celsius or lower. They are defined as liquids, liquids containing solids in solution or mixtures of liquids. Liquids transported at temperatures at or above their flashpoints are also classified as flammable liquids. Common examples include many adhesives, paints, alcohol, diesel fuel, gasoline, acetone and kerosene.

Class 4: Flammable Solids

This class includes materials that are readily combustible under conditions that are common during transport. Self-reactive substances that may undergo strong exothermic reactions or solid desensitized explosions are also included in this category. This category is broken down into three sub-divisions. Commonly transported flammable solids include matches, metal powders, sodium batteries and activated carbon.

Class 5: Oxidizing Substances, Organic Peroxides

Oxidizers are substances that may contribute to or cause combustion by yielding oxygen as the result of a chemical reaction. Organic peroxides are substances that may qualify as hydrogen peroxide where organic radicals have replaced one or both of the hydrogen atoms in the chemical structure. Chemical oxygen generators, nitrates, nitrites, ammonium nitrate fertilizers and sodium nitrate are a few common examples of this type of hazardous material.

oxidizer placard on container

Class 6: Toxic Substances and Infectious Substances

Toxic substances include any substances that could cause serious injury, harm or death to a human if inhaled, swallowed or allowed to come into contact with skin. Infectious substances are materials that are known to or likely to contain pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and other microorganisms that can cause disease in humans and animals. Examples include medical and biomedical waste, biological cultures, tear gas, dyes, acids, cyanides, arsenic, nicotine and chloroform.

Class 7: Radioactive Material

This class includes materials that contain radionuclides — atoms that are subject to radioactive decay due to an unstable nucleus — where both the total activity and activity concentration exceed predefined values. These materials emit ionizing radiation, which is extremely dangerous to human health. Medical isotopes, radioactive ores, depleted uranium and density gauges are a few of the most commonly transported radioactive materials.

Class 8: Corrosives

Corrosives include substances that disintegrate or degrade other materials on contact by way of chemical action. They will damage surrounding materials if they leak while in transit, and they can cause severe damage to living tissue. Examples include acids and acid solutions, batteries, dyes, paints and flux.

Class 9: Miscellaneous Hazardous Materials

Some hazardous materials do not fall into any of the first eight categories. In these situations, they are classified as “miscellaneous hazardous materials,” a class that includes environmentally hazardous substances, genetically modified organisms, substances that are transported at high temperatures and magnetized materials. A few common examples include dry ice, lithium-ion batteries, vehicles, first-aid kits, life-saving appliances and fuel cell


Because hazardous materials of all types are potentially dangerous, there are strict regulations regarding their transport. In addition to being properly categorized, the Department of Transportation requires that all hazmat shipments be properly placarded and labeled. In most situations, hazmat placards are required on cylinders, trucks and other vehicles used for transport. Hazmat labels, on the other hand, are affixed to or printed on material packaging and overpacks.

hazmat hazardous material placard signs

There are numerous labels and placards for hazardous materials. Each is designed to quickly convey what type of material a package or transport vehicle contains. They are emblazoned with the hazard classification, and they feature specific designs and colors that are used universally for transporting hazardous goods around the world.

Hazmat placards and labels are extremely important. They inform us of the potentially hazardous materials that are being transported on our roads, and they make us aware of packages that may contain materials that are dangerous. In addition to informing the public, placards and labels ensure that carriers know what they are hauling. They are also extremely important to police, firefighters, paramedics and other emergency responders. When spills or accidents happen, the placards or labels let first responders know what they are dealing with so they can look it up in the “Emergency Response Handbook.”

In addition to helping keep everyone safe, hazmat labels and placards are required by law. There are a few exceptions, but as a shipper, you are responsible for making sure that any hazardous materials you send out are properly categorized and labeled or placarded. Shippers


It goes without saying, but handling hazardous materials is extremely dangerous. If you are involved in packaging, shipping or transporting such materials, it is important to take the proper steps to ensure your safety. Make sure you have completed the proper training and you know exactly what you need to do.

It’s also a good idea to brush up on the “Emergency Response Guidebook” to learn exactly what you would need to do in the event of a spill, inhalation or other urgent situation. Familiarizing yourself with how the guidebook is set up will also help you know where to turn for help in the event of an emergency.

emergency response hazmat team

Before working with any hazardous material, read all labels as well as the safety data sheet. This will help you understand the hazards of that material and the necessary precautions you should take. Make sure all containers are labeled properly and the materials are always stored or transported in appropriate containers. Never eat or drink when handling potentially dangerous materials. If your hands are contaminated, avoid touching your face, handling contact lenses or using cosmetics until the contaminant has been thoroughly removed.


Shipping hazardous materials isn’t nearly as simple as mailing a book or a garment. There are strict laws and regulations in place to help ensure the safety of everyone involved in the process. If you are preparing hazardous materials for shipment, it is extremely important to be aware of and abide by these laws and regulations. In addition to ensuring safety, doing so helps you avoid steep fines and other penalties.

shipping hazardous materials graphic

Always use appropriate containers when shipping hazardous materials. In most cases, a regular cardboard box won’t do. You need to choose packaging that is approved for shipping the specific type of hazardous material you are working with. You also need to make sure that each package is properly labeled. You must use approved hazmat labels, and there are regulations regarding where they must be placed on the package. You are also responsible for making sure trucks, rail cars and other transport vehicles are placarded in accordance with the regulations set forth by the Department of Transportation.


Shipping hazardous materials is complicated, and it can seem overwhelming. While all the laws and regulations may be frustrating, keep in mind that they are in place for everyone’s protection. They are meant to protect people, wildlife, property and the environment from the potential dangers of hazardous goods — so they should not be taken lightly.

Hazard classes allow you to convey exactly what type of hazardous material is contained in a package or being transported. This categorization is required by law, and it ensures that carriers, first responders and others know exactly what they are dealing with. If you are shipping hazardous materials, you will need hazmat placards and labels that reflect the correct hazard class for the goods being transported.