Intro to Hazardous Cargo

Haz Guides Jun 23, 2020

Hazardous Material (HazMat) shipments are confusing and can grow complex quickly. A mountain of paperwork can quickly grow, and you sanity can fly right out of the window. These Haz Guides aim to help you regain your sanity with hazardous shipments.

Seriously, HazMat can be a serious pain since they are heavily regulated in every nation and from a United Nations (UN) scope. Internationally, HazMat shipments are regulated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is a division of the UN focused on Maritime trade and safety. Every member nation of the IMO votes on rules and laws for different aspects of international trade. The IMO publishes the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code or IMDG Code for short which regulates HazMat and dangerous cargo shipments.

In the United States, the federal Department of Transportation is the regulating these shipments when they are sent domestically. Not to make things more confusing, the regulations are different between international and domestic.

Through these guides, we'll dive into what makes a cargo hazardous or dangerous, dangerous cargo classes, cargo segregation requirements, paperwork, and much more.


There is definitely a lot of lingo that happens in the Maritime Industry and even more when you dive into the world of hazardous materials. Here's a little description of the lingo we'll be using.

  • We'll be using dangerous cargo and hazardous materials interchangeably throughout this guide
  • HazMat = Hazardous Materials
  • IMDG = International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code
  • IMO = International Maritime Organization
  • CFR = Code of Federal Regulation (US Federal Regulations)
  • GHS = Globally Harmonized System for Hazard Communication

We'll be updating this list as we go on throughout these guides and introduce new terms.

What the heck is a Hazardous Material?

Great question...

Hazardous Materials, in the US, are determined by the Federal Government - specifically, the Secretary of Transportation. They take a deep look into the material and determine if the product is capable of posing an unreasonable risk to health, safety, and property when transported in commerce, and has designated as hazardous under section 5103 of Federal hazardous materials transportation law [^1].

Meaning, a material is determined to be hazardous if in the event of a spill or inhalation or contact the material will hurt someone or impact their health. Additionally if the material may harm the environment or cause property damage if spilled (think about a tank explosion!) then it is considered a hazardous material.

For the international side of things, the US regulations and UN have harmonized their classification of hazardous materials and dangerous goods, called the Globally Harmonized System for Hazard Communications (GHS).

Do I really need to do anything with HazMat shipping?

Possibly - yes.

If you are shipping anything that has been deemed a hazardous material or are transporting hazardous materials, then you are likely the person responsible for all the fun things like package labeling and document preparation.

With that, go forth and ship!

Over the next several weeks we'll be adding guides, resources, and documents to help make all of this confusing hazmat business simpler!

[^1] 49 CFR 171.8

Nick Seferos

Sea-going maritime professional on ships and tugs turned to shore-side terminal life. Nick manages shore-side personnel and security, customs, and hazardous shipments in a container terminal.

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