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Hazmat Packing Groups Definitions and Assignments

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The shipment of hazardous materials (hazmat) is subject to several stringent regulatory measures to ensure that materials are adequately packaged according to their degree of risk or danger. These include a series of assessments, categorizations and tests to make sure the transportation of the materials is safe. 

If you are shipping hazmat materials, it is important to understand the relationship between packaging, packing groups and permissible quantities, regardless of whether you are shipping by land, air or sea. You also need custom shipping boxes such as hazmat boxes or hazmat shipping barrels to minimize the risk of accidental spills and remain compliant with international shipping laws.

Hazmat Packing Groups Definitions

Hazmat are required to be packed, handled and shipped according to the guidelines stated by the U.S. Department of Transportation Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR), and almost always according to United Nations Specification Packaging

Hazmat is categorized under three distinct packing groups. According to Title 49 in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (49 CFR), a packing group is the category of the extent of the danger posed by hazardous materials:   

  • Packing Group I designates materials posing great danger.
  • Packing Group II designates materials posing medium danger.
  • Packing Group III designates materials posing minor danger.

This means that hazmat categorized as packing group I requires more rigorous packaging than hazmat categorized as packing group II or packing group III. For example, highly corrosive materials should not be shipped inside metal packaging due to the danger of a reaction that could damage the package and result in a transportation accident. 

Custom shipping boxes are essential for packing hazmat and passing the United Nations (U.N.) specification packaging oversight process. You can order custom-made hazmat-approved corrugated packages that have received Department of Transportation and U.N. approval from Air Sea Containers. 

Air Sea Containers Works with You to Design All Your Custom Packaging Needs

an example of flammable and non-flammable gas hazard signs

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United Nations Specification Packaging Assignments 

Hazmat is classified according to one or more of nine U.N. hazard classes, such as explosives, gases, flammable liquids or solids, among others, and requires shipment according to United Nations Specification Packaging, also called Performance Oriented Packaging (POP). In addition, all hazmat packaging must be equipped with a hazmat label or placard identifying the contents. 

This is a crucial feature of transporting hazmat, in which packaging is marked with a code detailing restrictions for the specific package in terms of:

  • Completed package gross weight
  • Packing group suitability
  • The material’s specific gravity
  • Pressure
  • Any other additional specific considerations 

The marking also shows the manufacturing date and the country where the hazmat was manufactured. U.N. Specification Packaging then assigns unique certification codes designating the packing group suitability for the package to the manufacturer, which are as follows:

  • X Rating: Appropriate for packing groups I, II and III, meaning the most rigorous packaging
  • Y Rating: Appropriate for packing groups II and III, meaning a medium level of packaging durability
  • Z Rating: Appropriate for packing group III only, meaning more flexible packaging is allowed

Air Sea Containers offers a wide assortment of U.N.-certified corrugated hazmat boxes tested in accordance with all CFR-49, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and IMO requirements and are designed for shipping Packing Group I, II or II solids or liquids.

Packaging groups also usually stipulate the maximum quantity allowed to be shipped and what type of transportation is appropriate. 

The packages then undergo a range of performance tests to ascertain that the minimum conditions are met for the package type and intended use (as stipulated in 49 CFR 178). For example, the tests may consist of drop, stack, vibration, pressure differential, edge crush and leakproofness. 

Air Sea Containers: Your #1 Resource for Hazmat Labels & Placards

a close up of a barrel with a hazard sign on it

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When a packaging design, such as a shipping barrel, demonstrates that it can pass all the tests required, the packaging is marked with a U.N. Specification Code by U.N.-certified manufacturers. It is then shipped according to U.N. specification packaging. Air Sea Containers offers a broad selection of hazmat shipping barrels and differently shaped and sized drums in compliance with CFR-49, ICAO & IMO regulations. 

HMR requires every hazmat employee, whether shippers, freight forwarders or contractors, to undergo initial and recurrent hazmat training. 

Hazmat Shipping Rules Are Critical

These combined measures are so stringent that they are critical for preventing accidents that could lead to environmental contamination, severe injury or illness or fatalities to those exposed to the material. 

Accidentally shipping hazmat in the wrong packaging group can lead to anything from fines to serious misfortunes. Therefore, you must understand packing group definitions, material assignments and the regulations they are subject to if you are preparing to ship hazmat.


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