During the recent Dangerous Goods Symposium, U.S. Postal Inspection Service Hazardous Materials Program Specialist Vinny Desiderio described the ongoing challenges USPS has with eCommerce shippers who don’t know (or act as if they don’t know) they’re shipping hazmat.
Some of them—purveyors of ammunition, smoke grenades and chemicals such as calcium carbide—almost certainly know better. The USPIS has aggressively pursued these violators, assessing ten times the penalties in 2020 as they did in 2018.
But other eCommerce shippers genuinely don’t know they’re shipping regulated materials. The USPS and other carriers can’t hope to catch them all, because if a shipper doesn’t know they’re shipping hazmat, they’re obviously not going to apply hazmat labels or marks to their packages. These “plain brown boxes” are every inspector’s nightmare.
The best way to stop these unintentional violations is by getting as much information as possible in front of as many eCommerce shippers as possible. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched the Check the Box program to do just that—and it’s been quite successful—and most carriers do their part, too.
How well do they convey the hazmat information eCommerce shippers need? Let’s find out!
U.S. Postal Service sets the standard
The United States Postal Service has literally written the book on hazmat transport—Publication 52. It’s the most comprehensive guide any eCommerce shipper could want, but it’s also kind of intimidating.
Fortunately, USPS also offers a terrific hazmat shipping tutorial that walks you through every step from finding an SDS through packaging and shipping your product. Its richly detailed, user-friendly format includes lots of short videos and links where you can find even more information. This tutorial sets the standard for hazmat shipping information.
UPS, FedEx and Amazon have the guides you need
Giants FedEx and UPS are the go-to carriers for countless eCommerce operations, and as such you’d expect them to have robust Dangerous Goods information offerings. And you’d be right.
The UPS Guide for Transporting Hazardous Materials is a no-nonsense portal with dozens of links addressing any questions a shipper is likely to have. One of those links is a nifty Dangerous Goods Acceptance Tool, and another brings up a comprehensive guide for businesses who use UPS WorldShip software.
The FedEx How to Ship page for hazardous materials is a little more visually inviting, and a bit more intuitive. We especially like that there’s a special button just for lithium battery shipments, since so many eCommerce organizations make, sell and transport battery-powered devices.
Millions of eCommerce businesses, of course, rely on Amazon’s Seller Central to handle their fulfilment. They’ll find a Dangerous Goods Identification Guide that, while rich in information, may not be as helpful to newer eCommerce companies. However, organizations who join the FBA Dangerous Goods program will find more robust, personalized support.
eBay and Etsy are helpful, too
Popular eCommerce platforms eBay and Etsy give their users plenty of information, too, though it’s less comprehensive and not quite as user-friendly as what the giants offer.
eBay offers a minimal Hazardous materials policy page that lists prohibited items and links off to several larger resources, including the USPS Publication 52. However, the company recently piloted a new online regulatory portal which “empowers selected, trusted authorities from around the globe to efficiently report listings for illegal or unsafe items for swift removal.” Look for that portal soon!
Etsy offers a more detailed Prohibited Items Policy page than eBay, but for some reason it only mentions six of the nine hazmat classes.
ShipBob is a star
Founded just seven years ago, ShipBob has grown into one of the more popular eCommerce fulfilment platforms, and its Guide to HAZMAT Shipping & Compliance for Ecommerce is nothing short of excellent. It’s an easy-to-understand introduction to the world of Dangerous Goods transport that lists all nine hazard classes—in detail, with examples—and offers a step-by-step process for first-time hazmat shippers.
Is the site as comprehensive as those offered by the industry’s giants? No, not even close. But it links to all the big carriers, so a first timer starting out on ShipBob’s page can easily find whatever information they need.
Now, if only they didn’t insist on spelling HAZMAT in all capital letters. Startups, amirite?
Want answers to your hazmat questions without searching through any of these sites? Call the Labelmaster hazmat hotline— 1.800.621.5808, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central, Monday through Friday—and speak with one of our experts!
Make sure your shipments are safe and in complete compliance with a full line of solutions from Labelmaster—a full-service provider of goods and services for hazardous materials and Dangerous Goods professionals, shippers, transport operators and EH&S providers.