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Transporting Hazardous Materials

Last updated: March 25, 2019

What Does Transporting Hazardous Materials Mean?

The transportation of hazardous materials refers to an activity that moves hazardous materials from one space to another. Transportation can include both in-house transport of goods (by hand, by forklift, etc.), but it usually refers to the shipping of goods using road (trucking), rail, air, and sea services.

It is a subject of specific interest to safety agencies, as the transportation of hazardous goods is generally considered to be a time when the risks posed by those goods is elevated. Employers therefore face a large number of obligations related to the safe transportation of goods.

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Safeopedia Explains Transporting Hazardous Materials

Most jurisdictions allow some role for occupational safety agencies in determining the safety requirements that govern hazardous materials transport. However, transportation agencies have the chief responsibility of overseeing and enforcing the safety regulations that transporters of hazardous goods are required to meet.

Many domains of occupational safety are regulated by state or provincial governments, but since transportation agencies take the lead role in governing the transportation of hazardous materials, the field is overwhelmingly handled at the federal level. International governance includes guidance and labeling standards set by the United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of International Goods, as well as various inter-country agreements.


In the United States, the transport of hazardous goods is regulated by the Department of Transportation (DoT) under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act. These regulations are promulgated under section 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Similarly, in Canada, the Transportation of Goods Act provides Transport Canada (TC) with the authority to establish and enforce compliance with safety requirements for hazardous materials transport.

The requirements of the above agencies, as well as other agencies around the world, have received significant amendments as part of successful international efforts to improve public and occupational safety by harmonizing regulations for hazardous goods transport to a coherent international standard. These harmonized standards are based on recommendations by the United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of International Goods.

One of the most common international standards is the use of “UN Numbers” on package labeling to identify hazards associated with the goods being transported. In the U.S., NA (North America) Numbers are used in lieu of UN Numbers; however, outside of a small number of exceptions, NA Numbers correspond to the same hazard identifiers as UN Numbers. If a labeling standard is wholly domestic and does not have an international equivalent, the mark of the agency that governs the standard (e.g. the DoT) will usually be used on the label to indicate the agency the standard refers to.


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