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The Specification Packaging Marking Requirements of 49 CFR 178.3

The Specification Packaging Marking Requirements of 49 CFR 178.3

Most packagings intended for the transportation in commerce of a hazardous material must be designed, manufactured, and tested to meet either a DOT specification or a UN standard, which is then known as a specification packaging (Don’t confuse “specification packaging” with “DOT specification”, not all “specification packaging” is a “DOT specification” packaging, some may meet a UN standard).  A specification packaging must display a specification marking that meets the requirements of both of the following found in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations:

  • The applicable regulations for the type of packaging; e.g. cylinders, portable tanks, non-bulk, intermediate bulk containers (IBCs), large packagings, and more throughout part 178.
  • The general specification marking requirements for all packagings found at §178.3

In this article I will identify and describe the requirements of 49 CFR 178.3 – specifically, those of §178.3(a) – for the display of the specification marking – either a DOT specification or a UN standard – on a specification packaging.

First of all, who is responsible for the display of the specification marking?  Well, it depends.  §178.2(a)(2) assigns primary responsibility to the manufacturer of the packaging for compliance with all of the requirements of part 178, which includes the display of the specification marking.  However, the regulation also places a responsibility for compliance with any person who performs a regulated function, such as conducting a periodic inspection or leak-proof testing of a packaging.  What about the shipper?  Do they have a responsibility to ensure the specification marking is present?  That answer is more complicated and is attempted at the end of this article.

Note: These are the general requirements that apply to all packagings. Each different type of packaging has its own specification marking requirements found in part 178 that will be in addition to these and may supersede them.

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Specification packaging markings must be:

  • On a non-removable part of the packaging.
  • Displayed on an unobstructed area of the packaging.
  • Of letters and numerals that identify the packaging’s specification or standard.
  • There is no required sequence for these markings though other regulations for specific types of packagings may mandate one.  For example, both §178.503(a), for non-bulk packagings, and §178.703(a), for Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs), mandate a sequence for their respective specification packaging markings.
  • Unless other specific marking requirements of part 178 state otherwise, the name and address (or symbol, if registered with PHMSA/USDOT) of the packaging manufacturer or the person certifying  compliance with the UN Standard (or a symbol for this person if it is registered with PHMSA/USDOT) must appear as a marking on the packaging.
  • Markings must be applied to the packaging in one of the following manners:
    • Stamped
    • Embossed
    • Burned
    • Printed
    • Or otherwise marked.

This last description:  “or otherwise marked”;  is broad enough to include an adhesive-backed label affixed to a packaging as long as it meets all of the requirements of this paragraph and the specification marking requirements for each type of packaging identified in part 178 (13-0087).  But note the requirement below that the marking method must provide “adequate permanency”, which requires more than just a peel n’ stick label.  What isn’t acceptable to comply with this regulation is a pouch permanently attached to a packaging that then is used to hold a document with the required marking (11-0224)

  • The markings applied by one of the above methods must provide adequate…
    • Accessibility
    • Permanency
    • Contrast
    • And legibility…

…so as to be readily apparent and understood.

Note that this particular marking requirement is conditioned by the word “adequate” which means:  “satisfactory or acceptable in quality or quantity.”  So, the marking does not have to be “permanent”, meaning:  “lasting or intended to last or remain unchanged indefinitely.” but must provide adequate permanency…so as to be readily apparent and understood.  Well, what does that mean?  It’s hard to tell.  I suggest the marking be as permanent as you can make it and if you have any doubts about its permanency, ask PHMSA/USDOT for its opinion.

  •  Unless specified elsewhere – i.e. the specification marking requirements for specific types of packagings – the marking must be of the following size, as applicable:
    • At least 12.0 mm (0.47 inches) in height.
    • Or…
    • At least 6.0 mm (0.2 inches) in height if the packaging has a capacity of less than or equal to 30 L (7.9 gallons) for liquids or 30 kg (66 pounds) for solids.
    • Or…
    • Of appropriate size if the packaging has a capacity of 5 L (1 gallon) or 5 kg (11 pounds) or less.
  • If a package has a gross mass of more than 30 kg (66 pounds) the specification marking or a duplicate of it must appear on the top or on a side of the packaging.  Please note the following about this paragraph:
    • Reference is made to the “gross mass” of the “package”.  Defined at §171.8, Gross weight or Gross mass means the weight of a packaging plus the weight of its contents.  and Package or Outside Package means a packaging plus its contents.  It seems unlikely to me that a packaging manufacturer will know the gross mass of the completed package, i.e. the weight of the packaging they manufactured and the HazMat it contains added by the shipper, but somehow they must determine this for purposes of the placement of the specification marking.
    • A package with a gross mass of more than 30 kg (66 lb) may display its specification marking on the bottom as long as its duplicate is also displayed on the side or top (top must not be a removable part).
    • A package with a gross mass of 30 kg (66 lb) or less may display its specification marking solely on the bottom.
    • Conversation with the HazMat Info Line indicated the purpose of this regulation is to ensure that it is not necessary to lift heavy packages in order to see the specification marking.
    • This requirement for the placement of the specification marking gets more attention – and becomes more important – when the requirements for marking a non-bulk packaging are discussed at §178.503(a).

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This is where the requirements for marking a packaging with its UN standard or DOT specification begin, but not where they end.  Different types of packagings have their own distinct marking requirements which may at times repeat these general requirements or supplement them and at other times overrule them.  Be sure to refer to the applicable regulation to determine the specification marking requirements for the hazardous material packaging you intend to ship.

Q:  Does the shipper of a hazardous material have the responsibility to ensure the display of the specification markings before offering a HazMat package for transportation?

A:  The answer is not entirely clear for all types of packagings.  For bulk packagings that require periodic inspections and leak-proof tests, the answer is clearly “yes” as demonstrated for IBCs at 173.35(b)(2) which requires the person filling an IBC to ensure the specification markings are present.  It is not so clear for non-bulk packagings.  Nowhere in the HMR could I find a clear responsibility for the shipper of a non-bulk packaging to ensure the display of the specification marking before offering it for transport.  The following, however, lend weight to the argument I heard from the HazMat Info Center:  the shipper of a hazardous material must ensure the required specification marking is present prior to offering the package for transportation:

  • The requirement of §178.3(a)(3) – described above – for the method of marking the packaging to provide “adequate permanency”.  This seems to indicate that the specification marking is meant to be present throughout all stages of transportation.
  • The regulations for overpacks at §173.25(a)(4) indicate the need for the specification marking to be visible through an overpack or, if not, to display the word “OVERPACK” on the outside of the overpack..
  • The carrier of a hazardous material by highway is required to reject a shipment if it does not meet the requirements of the HMR (§177.801).  It seems unreasonable for a carrier to determine if the correct packaging is being used when the required markings are not visible.
  • And others…In sum, as a shipper of a hazardous material you must not only use the correct specification packaging (either a DOT specification or a UN standard) but ensure it is visible at the point of transportation.

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