Hazardous Materials and Freight Class

People ship things across the country every day, but what happens when that shipment involves hazardous material? Most people don’t realize that common, everyday items like batteries qualify as hazardous—or hazmat—materials, and they end up incurring penalties for failing to properly identify the contents of their shipment.

Knowing how to properly classify your shipment is not only useful to business owners, but also to individuals who need to ship hazardous materials for non-professional reasons. If you’re armed with a comprehensive understanding of how shipping these materials affect your final statement, you will avoid being overcharged or tagged with penalties.

As a rule of thumb, hazardous materials are more expensive to ship than non-hazmat goods; they will push shippers into a higher freight shipping class. It’s not hard to understand why. Shipping hazardous materials, if stowed or packaged improperly, involves a great deal of risk that can affect other freight in a truck, or even cause harm or death to drivers. For these reasons, the Department of Transportation has carefully classified these goods and has made clear the penalties for violating precautions.

Classes of Hazardous Materials

For obvious reasons, the shipment of hazardous materials is heavily regulated. The government organization that does most of that regulating is called D.O.T. – the Department of Transportation. They’ve carefully outlined what constitutes hazardous material, what to do if you’re dealing with a gray-area case that might potentially qualify as hazardous material, and, of course, the penalties for failing to properly stow or identify hazardous material.

Is it Hazardous?

Before shipping, it’s important to determine whether your goods are actually hazardous or qualify as hazardous according to DOT. The terms of qualification, as well as a list of items that are deemed hazardous, can be found under Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

In almost all cases, if you scan the list and discover that the item you’re attempting to ship does not appear, then it is likely not a hazardous material. However, there is one exception: If you’ve created a new material, the responsibility falls to the researcher to properly describe and identify the potential hazards posed by his or her creation. If you’re having trouble determining if new material is potentially hazardous, contact DOT and they will be able to guide you through the identification process.

Reportable Quantities and Small Quantities

Hazardous materials can qualify as “reportable quantities” or “small quantities.” When a hazmat is “reportable” that means that there is enough of it to justify reporting the shipment. In these cases, the amount of hazardous material is great enough to potentially cause harm if improperly handled or packaged. For this reason, it’s vital to properly identify and report it.

However, in other cases where only “small quantities” are being shipped, it’s possible to qualify for an exception. In these instances, while the material being shipped is certifiably hazardous, there just isn’t enough of it to cause real threat. If the individual doing the shipping can prove that there isn’t enough of the hazardous material to justify a “reportable quantity,” then they are potentially eligible for a fee reduction.

Packing Groups

When you ship hazardous materials, there are various classifications that are applied to it. One of these classifications is the “packing group.” The purpose of this classification is to help carriers identify the potential risk of the package and thus the way it should be handled. These groups are outlined by DOT and fall into three categories.

  • Package Group I: If a hazardous material is shipped under Package Group I, it poses the highest possible risk. This means the materials with the package, given improper handling, might cause the greatest amount of damage to the surrounding environment.
  • Package Group II: Hazardous materials that qualify for Package Group II are moderately dangerous. They aren’t benign, but they also aren’t going to cause a massive amount of damage if improperly handled.
  • Package Group III: The third package group represents that materials that pose the least risk to their environment. While they are still a hazardous material and must be handled with caution, they pose the smallest possible risk given the inherent risk of the material.

DOT Hazard Classes

In a highly comprehensive fashion, DOT has outlined all of the potentially hazardous materials (except for new materials) that need to be reported before being shipped. They’ve broken the different material down into 9 different classes, which are then subdivided into divisions. These divisions help identify the specific nature of the hazardous material.

These different classes will not only help identify the type of material that you’re going to ship but will help determine the class. In general, the more dangerous the material the higher your freight class will be. If freight must be handled with extra caution or requires specialized handling separate from other goods carried within the same truck, it’s common for extra fees to be applied.

Class 1: Explosives

Explosives are defined as are items that are capable of or designed to shatter or burst apart. Explosives are broken down into six divisions.

  • 1: Mass Explosion Hazard
  • 2: Projection Hazard
  • 3: Explosives With Fire Hazard
  • 4: Explosives Without Significant Blast Hazard
  • 5: Insensitive Explosives
  • 6: Extremely Insensitive Explosives

Class 2: Gases

Defined as an air-like liquid substance that can fill the area it occupies.

  • 1: Flammable Gases
  • 2: Non-Flammable Gases
  • 3: Poison Gases
  • 4: Corrosive Gases

Class 3: Flammable Liquids

Defined as liquids that are able to catch on fire.

  • 1: Flammable Below -18°C (0°F)
  • 2: Flammable Between -18°C (0°F) and 23°C (73°F)
  • 3: Flammable Between 23°C (73°F) and 61°C (141°F)

Class 4: Flammable Solids

Included in this category are solid materials that can catch fire, as well as materials that can spontaneously combust and materials that are dangerous when wet.

  • 1: Flammable Solids
  • 2: Spontaneously Combustible Material
  • 3: Materials That Become Dangerous When Wet

Class 5: Organic Peroxides and Oxidizers

These are hazardous materials that react when they come into contact with oxygen.

  • 1: Oxidizers
  • 2: Organic Peroxides

Class 6: Etiologic Materials and Poisons

These materials are those that can cause infection or can poison those that come in contact with them. They are the last class to be divided into subdivisions.

  • 1: Poisonous Materials
  • 2: Etiologic Materials

Class 7: Radioactive Materials

These are materials that alone, or in combination with other materials, can emit ionizing radiation. They can cause harm to goods or to people who come into contact with them. They are defined as radioactive if they are active at more than 0.002 microcuries per gram.

Class 8: Corrosives

Class 8 describes materials that are capable of causing irreversible, corrosive damage to skin or another material. If a Class 8 material comes into contact with steel or aluminum, it also has the possibility of damaging that material.

Class 9: Miscellaneous Substances

These are materials that do not otherwise fall within Classes 1-8, but still prevent a hazard during transport.


In almost all cases, the package that hazardous materials are to be shipped within must be properly labeled. DOT has created labels specifically for these different classes. They must be officially printed and can’t be handmade, otherwise, they will qualify for penalty fees. These labels are differentiated by size, shape, and color.

Transportation of Hazardous Materials

There’s a right way to ship hazardous materials and there’s a wrong way. Often, the right way can prevent serious harm from befalling people involved in the process of shipping and from damage being incurred to other goods contained within the truck. If you’re trying to figure out the correct steps to take leading up to a shipment of hazardous material, consider the following:

  • Check for regulation updates. It doesn’t happen often, but DOT will occasionally change the regulations regarding their shipment of hazardous materials. Before sending out a shipment, check if anything has changed.
  • Make sure that you’ve filled out shipping forms correctly. This is a very important step – perhaps the most important next to packaging. The shipping form will alert the carrier about what is contained within the package, the nature of the hazardous material, and will dictate how the package is handled. For both your sake and the sake of the carrier, be sure to be scrupulous in order to avoid mishandling that can damage your goods, others’ goods, or cause serious harm to workers involved in transportation.
  • Choose the right packaging. If you chose the incorrect packaging, it’s possible that the hazardous material might be damaged.

Calculating Freight Class

Calculating freight class is a way carriers categorize your shipment in order to determine how much to charge. These classes apply to less than truckload shipments (LTL), in which the shipment will take up less than a full truckload and share space in the truck with other goods. There are 18 different freight classes , differentiated by weight and the nature of the material being shipped.

When you ship hazardous materials, they require more attention than non-hazardous materials. They pose a greater risk to the other goods being transported in the truck. For these reasons, they will bump the shipment into the more expensive freight classes.

There are four main factors that affect which freight class will be applied.

Density and Value

The density of a package is determined by measuring the weight, length, and height of a given package. Somewhat counterintuitively, the lower the density the higher the freight class. The density is measured by dividing the weight of a given item by its volume.


In most cases, freight is handled by mechanical equipment. It’s loaded onto trucks using machines and doesn’t require workers to put in any extra effort. However, in some cases—especially those involving hazardous materials—the freight requires careful or specialized handling. This will often increase the freight class and make the shipment more expensive.


This factor calculates the risk involved with shipping freight. If the hazardous material that you’re shipping has the possibility of spontaneously combusting and therefore damaging the other goods within the truck, it will have a higher liability. This number is calculated by determining a value per pound.


Often, hazardous materials are not easily stowed. They must be placed in carefully managed compartments away from the rest of the goods in the truck. This kind of special treatment means that the stowing price will increase.

Freight Classes

There are 18 different freight classes. They are determined by combining the above factors to produce a number. Hazardous Materials will often be categorized higher because they are more difficult to stow, are a higher liability, and require special handling.

The purpose of freight class is to help shippers get unbiased pricing on their freight. It also helps carriers figure out the best way to organize goods before they’re loaded onto a truck. If carriers have incorrect information, they may accidentally stack goods that shouldn’t be stacked, or create a hazard by destroying or unleashing hazardous materials.

The final calculation is simple: the lower your freight class, the lower the cost. Below, the measurement in pounds refers to the weight per cubic foot. Remember that it’s important to have the correct freight class because it’s common for penalties to be applied when they’ve been incorrectly used.

  • Class 50 – Over 50lbs
  • Class 55 – 35-50lbs
  • Class 60 – 30-35lbs
  • Class 65 – 22.5-30lbs
  • Class 70 – 13.5-15lbs
  • Class 77.5 – 13.5-15lbs
  • Class 85 – 12-13.5lbs
  • Class 92.5 – 10.5-12lbs
  • Class 100 – 9-10.5lbs
  • Class 110 – 8-9lbs
  • Class 125 – 7-8lbs
  • Class 150 – 6-7lbs
  • Class 175 – 5-6lbs
  • Class 200 – 4-5lbs
  • Class 250 – 3-4lbs
  • Class 300 – 2-3lbs
  • Class 400 – 1-2lbs
  • Class 500 – Less than 1lb


If you mislabel hazardous material or incorrectly identify hazardous material, you risk putting all of the surrounding goods in the truck in harm’s way and may potentially injure the driver. For these reasons, it is vitally important that you make sure to correctly identify the hazardous material that you’re going to ship. If you have any questions regarding the way it should be packaged or shipped, contact the carrier or the Department of Transportation for clarification.

If you have any more questions about what could be considered hazardous materials, please contact us today!

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