What You Need to Know About Dangerous Goods

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While shipping companies and services accept a great number of items, some require special care when sending or receiving them. Referred to as “dangerous goods” or “hazardous materials”, these items have strict regulations to keep involved parties as safe as possible. While many are unlikely to be handled by the average person, there are other products that you might not realize would need to be regulated. Homeowners should know what to expect during dangerous goods packaging and shipping.

What are Dangerous Goods?

Dangerous goods are defined by the Department of Transportation and the United Nations as any substance or object that could harm living organisms, property or the environment, whether broadly or due to specific conditions during shipping. There are nine recognized categories, based on the type of danger posed:

  • Explosives
  • Gases—flammable, toxic or neither
  • Flammable liquids
  • Flammable solids
  • Oxidizing substances and organic pesticides
  • Toxic and infectious substances
  • Radioactive materials
  • Corrosive materials
  • Miscellaneous—includes items like dry ice, asbestos, anesthetics, air rafts, etc.

Common Dangerous Goods

Many household items can be dangerous in transit; some are self-evident, like insecticides or cleaning agents, but plenty others aren’t always obvious. Hairspray, deodorant and spray paint all contain aerosols, for example, while volatile and flammable liquids are found anywhere from alcohol to nail polish. Explosive hazards are surprisingly common, too—lithium batteries in portable electronic devices are a big offender. If you suspect something could be flammable, explosive or chemically reactive, double check before trying to ship it.

Safe Shipping and Handling

It falls on the shipper to declare any dangerous goods intended for shipping and to ensure proper packaging. Declaration forms are publicly available for this purpose, and you must fill one out before shipment. Couriers often also test packages to ensure their safety, but this requires that they know what to test for—be sure to document everything! Some items are prohibited entirely, too, or may be considered not dangerous depending on the method of transit; contact the courier’s customer service beforehand to be sure.