Undeclared and Non-Compliant DG Shipments: Their Causes and Consequences

More than 3 billion tons of hazardous material are transported in the United States each year and 261,000 tons are being transported by air. When these DG shipments are not properly classified, identified, marked, labeled,  documented and stowed, they can cause a significant risk to transportation and supply chain employees, emergency responders as well as the general public.

The Pipeline Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA) says there are approximately 1,500 reported incidents per year of undeclared hazardous materials and that’s just the ones that get caught… now imagine how many more get through the transportation chain undetected! A sobering thought for certain.

Why Does This Happen?

Federal investigators often cite the two main reasons as:

  • Ignorance: Shipper’s lack of knowledge or misunderstanding of the applicable regulations
  • Economic reasons: Shippers trying to avoid paying the additional costs for training, packaging, insurance, etc.…

Incidents are generally discovered due to an accident/incident, during routine cargo screening, or when a tip is received by officials.

To the non-hazmat professionals, it may never occur to them that common everyday household products and consumer goods are considered to be hazardous materials. These can include items such as:

  • Lithium batteries (phones, laptops, tablets, power tools)
  • Mercury (thermometers, barometers)
  • Corrosives (drain cleaners, pool sanitizers)
  • Fireworks
  • Flammable liquids (paints, adhesives, perfumery products)

As a result, ordinary folks, perhaps like family members, are creating dangerous, undeclared shipments every day because they simply don’t know that what they are shipping is considered hazmat. Think of that bottle of cologne your Aunt Agnes sent to you for the holidays, for example. Inspectors often say that the most dangerous package in the supply chain is the one in “the plain brown box” shipped by someone totally unfamiliar with the regulations.

Online retailers are some of the worst offenders as many do not understand the hazmat regulations or lack hazmat training.

Sometimes, trained shippers may misinterpret the regulations or overlook something like a special provision for example and this inadvertently offers a non-compliant shipment for transport.

Other times, unscrupulous shippers are trying to avoid paying the additional costs of shipping hazardous materials. The required training of hazmat employees, special packaging, labels/placards, and insurance all have their associated price tags. But obviously, they are important and justified in order to create safe and compliant shipments.

What Are The Consequences of Non-Compliant DG Shipments?

First, let’s talk money. The financial consequences for shipping undeclared hazmat can be quite severe. For example:

  • The FAA imposed a $91,000 civil penalty on a paint distributor for offering an undeclared box containing a 3.8 liter can of paint that leaked during transport. The subsequent investigation also showed that the employees of the company were not trained. That’s one expensive can of paint!
  • A popular online retailer received a $380,000 civil penalty from the FAA for an undeclared air shipment of a corrosive drain cleaner that leaked and injured several cargo handlers

In an effort to reduce the frequency of these occurrences, carriers such as USPS, FedEx, UPS and DHL have published guidelines on the shipping of common retail products. A few years ago, The US PHMSA started an online awareness program called “Check the Box” . The “Check the Box” program contains, among other resources, a series of videos featuring a cartoon character by the name of “Hazardous Matt” (insert eye roll here). Matt is a little blue blob with a flaming Mohawk hairstyle. While seemingly a tad silly, it does a good job of educating the general public about identifying and preparing shipments containing common everyday items that are considered to be hazmat. Here is the link: https://www.transportation.gov/check-the-box

Ultimately, it is the shipper’s responsibility to know what they are sending. More cooperation from the e-commerce community would have a positive effect as well. The Hazardous Materials Civil Penalty Program also suggests that supply chain participants looking out for one another is probably the best way to keep everyone safe and compliant with the regulations.

Learn About DG Shipments Best Practices and More With Online Hazmat Training

Whether you’re a civilian or a Hazmat employee or professional, odds are you’ve encountered some kind of DG shipments in your life. For the safety of everyone, it’s critical to understand what constitutes a DG shipment, and the appropriate procedures for complete compliance. To learn more about best practices for shipping hazardous materials, contact us today or explore our wide array of online hazmat training courses. We’re here to help you be confident, be competent, and be compliant.