Basic knowledge of handling dangerous goods in airfreight and ocean freight

06 Feb 2024

By Richie Lin    Photo:CANVA


Based on their hazardous properties, Dangerous goods are classified into nine different classes and some classes might have different divisions. These classes help identify and manage the risks associated with transporting and handling these materials.


Let’s explore each class:

Class 1 - Explosive Substances and Articles which Contains substances and items that pose an explosion hazard.

Class 2 - Gases: Includes potentially dangerous gases.

Class 3 - Flammable Liquids: Covers flammable liquids, including some molten solid substances and liquid desensitized explosives.

Class 4 - Flammable Solids: An general term that includes subclasses: such as 4.1 Flammable solids, self-reactive substances, polymerizing substances, and solid desensitized explosives; 4.2: Substances liable to spontaneous combustion; 4.3: Substances that emit flammable gases when in contact with water.

Class 5 - Oxidizing Substances and Organic Peroxides.

Class 6 - Toxic and Infectious Substances.

Class 7 - Radioactive Material.

Class 8 - Corrosive Substances: Includes corrosive materials that can cause damage to living tissues or other materials.

Class 9 - Miscellaneous Dangerous Substances and Articles: an overall category for substances not covered by other classes.


Based on the specialties and dangerous level of these 9 classes, the IATA and IMDG issued their regulations of packing, labeling and handling for thousands of dangerous goods around the world. People usually felt upset when they need to ship out a dangerous good and have no idea what to prepare. However, they will feel more confident to arrange the transportation of dangerous goods after they learn below basic instructions.   


First of all, we need to identify the proper shipping name. The proper shipping name (PSN) is a standardized technical term used to describe the hazard properties and composition of dangerous goods during transportation. When dealing with hazardous materials, it’s crucial to accurately identify the proper shipping name. People need to understand that PSN is different from the commercial name.


For example, a customer has a shipment of batteries to ship out by airfreight. The first step is to select accurate proper shipping name according to the substances of the batteries. Suppose the substances of batteries are lithium ions, then we can use lithium ion batteries as the PSN. Secondly, based on the PSN, we can check the Dangerous Goods Regulations issued by the IATA to find out the relevant UN number.


The UN number (United Nations number) is a four-digit identifier used to recognize hazardous materials and articles during international trade and transport. These numbers are crucial for labeling the contents of cargo containers. UN number consists four digits. We can find out  the un number for lithium ion batteries is UN3480 listed on the Dangerous Goods Regulations. Thirdly, use the PSN and UN number to match the Packing Groups and Packing Instructions. Packing groups classify hazardous substances based on their degree of danger.


These groups help determine the appropriate packaging required for transporting dangerous goods.

There are three packing groups:

Packing Group I: Represents very dangerous goods.

Packing Group II: Signifies moderately dangerous goods.

Packing Group III: Indicates substances with low danger.


Packing instructions are essential guidelines for safely packaging and transporting dangerous goods. The UN Model Dangerous Goods Regulations provide specific packing instructions for various classes of dangerous goods. These instructions typically require the use of UN performance-tested packages.


However, exceptions apply when shipping dangerous goods under the provisions of Limited Quantities or Excepted Quantities. On DGR, we can see the packing instruction for UN 3480 is PI 965. PI 965 also divides into 2 divisions. One is PI965 section 1A and the other is PI965 section 1B. Section 1A means lithium ion batteries with a Watt-hour rating in excess of 100 WH and section 1B means lithium ion batteries with as Watt-hour rating not in excess of 100 WH. Lastly, we can choose the proper shipping methods after we have proper shipping name, UN number and packing instruction. For example, a customer wants to ship out several boxes of lithium ion batteries abroad.


We can tell them they can only choose cargo aircraft only based on the combined regulations of PSN (lithium ion batteries), UN3480 and PI865. And the net qty of each box cannot be over 35kg, otherwise customer needs to choose ocean freight.


I believe people are more confident to receive dangerous goods after understanding the above basic four steps of procedures. If any company has to ship out the dangerous goods, they can consult with professional logistics company to understand the regulations about packaging and transportation methods.


When a logistics company has to say no about one particular dangerous goods, it is always based on the professional interpretations on the Dangerous Goods Regulations issued by the IATA.  

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