Shipping Hazardous Materials: Mistakes to Avoid

03/02/2023 by Christine Morris

Shipping Hazardous Materials: Mistakes to Avoid

These common mistakes when shipping hazardous materials can end up costing your business a lot of money.

Shipping hazardous materials have very little room for mistakes but very large consequences if done incorrectly. Mistakes when shipping hazmat materials can cause injury, damage to property, or endanger lives, so hazmat shipping should always be handled with tremendous caution.

Safe hazmat shipping is possible but requires diligence, communication, and attention to detail.

These are the most common mistakes companies make when shipping hazardous materials.


First, let’s clarify what hazardous materials or dangerous goods are.

Many think of hazardous materials as things like explosives, gasoline, or acids. Yet, many common goods are hazardous when shipped, such as aerosol sprays, nail polish, alcohol, paint, dry ice, or cosmetics. Any substance or material that can pose a risk to health, safety, or property is a hazardous material or dangerous good.


Hazmat safety regulations exist to keep people, property, and the environment safe. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) handle these regulations.

One reason you don’t want to make any hazardous shipping mistakes? Violations. Currently, hazmat regulation penalties are:

  • Maximum civil penalty violation is $84,424 per day, per violation,
  • Maximum civil penalty violation that results in death, serious illness, severe injury, or large destruction of property is $196,992 per day, per violation,
  • Civil penalty for a violation of hazardous training is $508 per employee, per day.


Many companies have made hazardous shipping mistakes. Here are some true scenarios. 

Example 1: Online Retailer

Fined $91,000

An online retailer shipped a package by air containing flammable liquid adhesive. The motor carrier discovered the product leaking from its container. The online retailer offered the shipment, not including the required shipping papers or emergency response information. The freight’s packaging was incorrect and not marked or labeled as required. Nor were the company’s employees trained in handling hazmat packages for shipment by air.

Example 2: Chemical Company

Fined $325,000

On two separate occasions, a chemical company shipped undeclared hazardous material that is illegal to transport by air. The chemical company allegedly shipped pints of acrolein, which can become explosive when combined with air. Neither shipment had the required shipping papers or emergency response information. Additionally, one of the shipments was not marked, labeled, or packaged as required. Employee training was also found to be non-compliant.

Example 3: Flooring Company

Fined $63,000

A flooring company shipped a package of hazardous freight. The motor carrier found a package leaking. The flooring company did not provide the required shipping papers or emergency response information, nor did they mark, label, or package the shipment as required. Additionally, employees were not trained to handle hazardous materials.


Failing to Label and Declare Goods Properly

Failing to label and declare hazardous goods is one of the most common shipping mistakes. Transparency is critical at every level to ship hazardous materials without mistakes.

All hazardous freight must have the proper UN hazmat labels or hazmat placards to identify their contents. Shippers must also disclose the information on the shipper’s declaration form.

Failing to properly mark, label, and declare your hazardous materials keeps employees from knowing what kind of materials they are handling, which hazard class they belong to, and what kind of precautionary measures they need to take. In the end, improper labeling and declaration can be an endangerment.

Not Accounting for Differences in Modes of Transportation

Regulations on certain hazardous goods and packaging methods can vary based on which mode they’re shipped with.

Take dry ice as an example. It has different regulations when shipped by ground than when by air. Another example is magnetized material. It’s only subjected to regulation restrictions when transported by air due to the interference it can cause to aircraft instruments.

That’s why it’s important to confirm the mode of transportation when shipping hazardous materials before packing, marking, labeling, and documenting everything. This way, you and your logistics provider know the exact shipping requirements needed.

Lack of Familiarity with Specific Regulations for Each Substance

The USDOT provides detailed tables of hazardous materials and their specific regulations for each classification. This includes specific information such as what packaging to use or transportation modes to ship. It’s your company’s responsibility to be knowledgeable and familiar with those regulations. Even still, ignorance of these regulations is a common mistake when shipping hazardous materials.

Assuming Goods Aren’t Hazardous

There are many materials that the average person wouldn’t think of as hazardous. Assuming goods aren’t hazardous materials when they are is a common mistake that happens when employees aren’t properly trained on hazmat and dangerous goods. As a result, they lack the required knowledge to differentiate what is and isn’t hazardous. This risks transporting hazardous material without being packaged, labeled, and communicated in the correct manner.

This mistake has the potential to cause catastrophic consequences depending on the product, the transportation mode, and several other factors. Ensure your employees are trained and when in doubt, don’t assume. Take the extra time to research the material if needed and follow hazardous protocol when applicable.

Some common items that are assumed to be non-hazardous are:

  • Magnetized materials
  • Lithium batteries
  • Contaminated medical equipment
  • Dry ice
  • Aerosols
  • Equipment with gas cartridges or compressed air
  • Genetically modified organisms

Letting Untrained Employees Handle Hazardous Materials

What’s the easiest and most important way to avoid hazardous material shipping mistakes? Make sure your employees are trained in hazmat shipping.

Many of these mistakes happen due to untrained employees handling hazmat shipments. Therefore, employees need to undergo formal training and show competence under supervision before handling hazardous goods on their own. Additionally, employees should frequently be reeducated to stay keen on hazmat shipping requirements.

Not Following Exact Instructions for Packaging by the Manufacturer

Hazardous material packaging is designed to meet regulatory requirements. Many hazmat packaging manufacturers will include detailed instructions on how to use their packaging for safe and compliant shipping. It’s important that employees have access to these instructions and understand them completely.

Thinking Any Mistakes Will be Overlooked

It can be easy to think your business won’t get caught with a hazmat shipping violation. Yet, as noted by the examples above, it can and does happen. As the U.S. government remains vigilant in cracking down on hazmat shipping violations, fines continue to increase, making it even more financially smart to stay compliant. Not to mention that those violations can cause harm to the environment or people. No matter what, risking a hazmat shipping violation is never worth it.


Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, but when it comes to shipping hazardous materials, it’s crucial to do all you can to reduce them. Now that you know the most common mistakes when shipping hazmat, you can be more aware of avoiding them.

An easy way to help stay compliant when shipping hazardous materials is partnering with an expert knowledgeable in its regulations, like Trinity Logistics. We’ve been in the business of arranging hazardous shipments in several modes for over 40 years. We’ve also been Responsible Care certified since 2009.

If you’re looking for a reliable partner to help you with shipping your hazardous materials, consider Trinity Logistics. We can help take the guesswork out of keeping your hazmat shipments compliant.

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