All you need to know about transportation of Dangerous Goods and the Importance of the UN Number

Today, shipping can truly be considered an international industry that can only operate effectively if the regulations and standards are agreed upon, adopted, and implemented internationally. If we are talking about dangerous chemicals, hazardous materials, these are regulated worldwide by the UN’s Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods. These recommendations are implemented and transposed in many national or regional regulations worldwide, helping and facilitating international trade and transport information harmonisation.

The first version of the Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods was published in 1956. In 1996, the Recommendations were effectively split into two parts: 

  • the Model Regulations, which form suggested drafting for laws and regulations on the transport of dangerous goods; and
  •  the Manual of Tests and Criteria contains technical information about methods of testing products to ascertain their hazards. 

From 2001 onwards, UN’s Subcommittee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods publishes new revisions every two years. The latest, 22nd edition of the Recommendations, was published in 2021.

Dangerous goods are those hazardous materials - chemical substances (for example, acetone, ethanol, propane, etc.), mixtures (for example, fertilisers, alkaloids, etc.) or manufactured articles (for example, fireworks) which belong to one of the nine hazard classes introduced by the transport of the dangerous goods model regulations. The transport hazards grouped into nine classes are subdivided into divisions and/or packing groups. The most common hazardous goods are assigned a UN number, a four-digit code that identifies that hazardous product internationally, such as UN1090: Acetone. Less common substances are transported under generic codes such as "UN1993: Flammable liquid, not otherwise specified".

Transportation Information in Safety Data Sheets

So how is the above-mentioned information connected to the Safety Data Sheets (SDS)? One section in the SDS is dedicated to the transport information, which is ‘’Section 14. Transport information’’. When applicable, transport information should be entered in section 14 to guide the proper classification of the product for transportation purposes. Before these are shipped, any company that transports dangerous goods is required to determine the correct UN number and put it together with other supplemental information such as pictograms, hazard class, packaging class, etc., on the label attached to the container. UN number is a unique four-digit number meant to be used as a reference and quick guide for companies transporting dangerous goods. It provides guidance on the proper shipping material or container of the product and specifications on which segregation group the product is in, among other things.

One more important thing to note is that transportation guidelines differ from the Globally Harmonized System (GHS). SDS are usually prepared according to GHS, and hazard pictograms from the GHS are primarily used for labelling the containers for the workplace or rarely also for consumers. While these can be used in transport, the second set of pictograms is usually used to transport dangerous goods, the ones mentioned in the Model Regulations for the Transportation of Dangerous Goods. Transport pictograms are used in a wider variety of colours and may contain additional information such as a subcategory number. 

If the dangerous goods are improperly classified, that could lead to catastrophic consequences. If the product is transported together with other hazardous goods, they must follow the rules set out in the Model regulations. It is important to select the correct UN number; otherwise, you may have improper packaging or containers. Not to mention in cases of mixed transport where the compatibility of the mixed loads needs to be checked. Different Dangerous Goods found mixed loads must be compatible, or certain classes must be separated by at least 1 meter when loaded on the exact vehicle. Incompatible dangerous goods should not be transported or stored together to avoid possible reactions between the dangerous goods or reduce the hazards of any accidental leakage or spillage.

Therefore, it is important to ensure that hazardous products are not improperly labelled or packaged, resulting in a disaster or harsh fines for violating dangerous goods transportation laws.

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