Key Facts to Know When Shipping Dangerous Goods

Shipping Dangerous Goods (DGs), such as compressed or liquefied gases, can seem daunting. With a basic understanding of dangerous goods, shipping these products can be straightforward – however, anyone looking to do so should be fully aware of their responsibilities and potential liabilities.

The regulations surrounding the shipping of dangerous goods will differ depending upon which goods they are, where you are shipping them, and the method of transport.

Dangerous goods are generally classified in the same way around the world, under UN regulations. They are grouped primarily into different “classes,” which represent similar types of goods.

Gases make up class 2, with three sub-divisions:

  • 2.1           Flammable gases
  • 2.2           Non-flammable, non-toxic gases
  • 2.3           Toxic gases

Some other key descriptors of dangerous goods which any consignor needs to know are listed below:

The UN Number is the unique identification number which relates a material to a set of specific regulations. Whilst sometimes common names for items can differ around the world (e.g. Gasoline, Petrol), the UN number will always remain the same.

The Packing Group. The packing group is used as the primary identification of the level of danger of any material according to their hazard level. They are identified using roman numerals as listed below:

  • I – High Danger
  • II – Medium Danger
  • III – Low Danger

Packing Groups are used also to determine the appropriate packaging type for maximum protection from spills/leakage. However, gases are a special case because they are always packaged in cylinders meeting specific international standards. Because of this, Packing Groups do not apply to gases, and therefore this field is always left blank.

The Proper Shipping Name is the accepted name of a product, and is related to its UN number. For example, the Proper Shipping Name of UN1002 is Air, compressed. These names can be found in the relevant dangerous goods regulations.

The Technical Name is related to and sometimes required in addition to the Proper Shipping Name. It is used when an entry’s Proper Shipping Name is supplemented with “N.O.S.” (Not Otherwise Specified). The Technical Name is used to further specify a material within a group of materials with the same dangerous goods classification & risks. When listing the Technical Name of a gas mixture, it need not be more than two of the components of the mixture which most greatly contribute to the hazard, following the word “contains,” or supplemented with the word “mixture.” They must be listed in parenthesis immediately after the Proper Shipping Name.

e.g.          UN1956 Compressed gas, n.o.s. (oxygen, nitrogen mixture).

               UN1956 Compressed gas, n.o.s. (contains oxygen, nitrogen).

The Net Weight is the weight of the hazardous material itself, without any packaging. This weight will determine.

Are all calibration gases dangerous goods?

Yes. Each different type of calibration gas is contained inside a cylinder at a high pressure. This pressure represents a potential danger, as well as the danger of the gases themselves. Once a cylinder is empty, or near to empty, it may no longer be classified as dangerous goods. Typically, the cut-off point is 200kpa (29psi or 2BAR).

What makes them so dangerous?

The primary danger associated with calibration gases is dependent on its sub-division.

Flammable gases can ignite or explode. These types are restricted from some forms of transport.

Non-flammable, non-toxic gases are still dangerous because there is a risk of asphyxiation. Even if the gas is not toxic, when released, they can displace the oxygen in the atmosphere (particularly in confined spaces) and cause suffocation.

Toxic gases represent the highest danger. Contact with even a small amount of this type can cause serious harm. They are forbidden from all aircraft, and carriage on ocean vessels is at the captain’s discretion. They are difficult and very expensive to move.

Do I need some sort of special certification to ship dangerous goods?

That depends on where the goods are going, and how they’re to be sent. There are different requirements for each different type of shipment, be it domestic or international, and by road, rail, ocean, or air freight.

Air freight is the most restrictive form of transport for dangerous goods. To consign goods on an aircraft (to most countries), you must be certified by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). There is no differentiation between domestic and international flights – all must adhere to the same regulations.

We are sometimes asked if we can send calibration gases in an “air bag,” or by overnight courier. Normally, these types of services include transport by aircraft, so while the answer is that we can, the price is usually prohibitive. Air freight is very expensive, even domestically. It is also important to note that even for some routes which are “overnight” services not using aircraft (i.e. Sydney to Melbourne), trying to consign DGs can cause extra delays as the goods will not pass through the carrier’s depots. Most services will be a simple “yes,” or “no” when it comes to DGs.

Ocean freight is available for all types of calibration, specialty, and pure gases. Regulations for ocean freight are maintained by the International Maritime Organization, in the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code. You must know how to properly complete a Marine Order 41 (MO41) form in order to consign dangerous goods by ocean freight.

Road freight is the simplest and cheapest way to send goods within Australia. The applicable regulations are set out in the Australian Code for the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail (ADG Code). Dangerous goods forms must be completed by the consignee. No special certification is required, but it is highly advisable to take a dangerous goods course if you plan to make regular shipments.

Liability & Chain of Responsibility

When you consign dangerous goods, you are accepting responsibility for the products being correctly packed & declared. While there is liability in every step of the supply chain (e.g. consignee, driver, courier company, receiver, etc), ultimately the consignee is primarily responsible. Goods can only be handled correctly, if they are first correctly identified. If you do not take care to correctly consign DG’s, you can face serious penalties, including fines, & even time in prison. This is why it is very important that a consignee fully understands the applicable dangerous goods regulations, and their responsibilities.

This article is intended as an outline of information only, and should be followed with a proper dangerous goods certification course, if any reader plans to become a shipper of dangerous goods.


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