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Use of Placards on Non-Bulk Packagings of Hazardous Material

Use of Placards on Non-Bulk Packagings of Hazardous Material

Unless an exception to the Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR) is available, every shipment of a hazardous material will require the use of each of the four hazard communication methods of the US DOT, they are:

  • Shipping papers
  • Placards
  • HazMat labels
  • Markings

Typically a placard is affixed to all four sides of a transport vehicle, such as a truck on the highway or a rail car.  There are some situations, however, where a placard is required to be affixed to all four sides of a bulk packaging and there are some situations where the use of a placard or a HazMat label is an option on two sides of a bulk packaging.  You can read more about the option to placard or label bulk packagings here:  Use of Placards for HazMat Shipments in Bulk Packagings.

The purpose of this article is to answer a question asked at one of my Public Training Seminars:  “Is it OK to use a placard on a non-bulk packaging of a hazardous material in place of the HazMat label?”

My initial response to this question, to myself of course, was “Don’t be ridiculous.  There’s no way it would be allowed and no reason to attempt it in the first place.”  But if I’ve learned one thing in this industry, it’s to never assume the HMR will make sense.  My research into the question returned the answer I expected – No, you can’t – but not for the reasons I thought and only after I learned something even more valuable about the HMR and compliance.

I first called the HazMat Info Line of the PHMSA to get an idea of how to frame my search and obtain some guidance toward the regulations.  The HazMat Info Line is a great source of information and I recommend their services for your questions about the HMR.  In this situation, however, their response was at best misleading and at worst, incorrect.  The Specialist told me that the use of a placard on a non-bulk packaging instead of a HazMat label is acceptable as long as the placard met the applicable requirements for the appearance of the HazMat label.  Therefore, to use a flammable placard in place of a flammable HazMat label, the placard would need to match the requirements for a flammable HazMat label found at §172.419.  Surprisingly, size does not preclude use of a placard since, as we’ll see, while HazMat labels have a specified minimum size, they do not have a specified maximum size.  Since at first glance most HazMat labels tend to resemble the placards of their Hazard Class or Division, this didn’t seem to present a problem.  The Specialist did point out that some placards and HazMat labels clearly differ in appearance, for example:  The Class 9 Miscellaneous placard seen at §172.560 and the Class 9 Miscellaneous HazMat label seen at §172.446.  Aside from this, it appeared that the substitution was OK.

Placard for a Class 9 MISCELLANEOUS HazMat per 49 CFR 172.560

HazMat Label for a Class 9 MISCELLANEOUS HazMat per 49 CFR 172.446

This is when I began my own research to confirm what I had been told.  At first, the HMR seemed to confirm my information.  In 49 CFR 172.400(a)(1) the HMR mandates the use of labels for non-bulk packagings of a hazardous material as indicated in the Hazardous Materials Table  @ §172.101 and that the HazMat label must comply with the remainder for §172, Subpart E – Labeling.  In Subpart E, §172.401(a) prohibits the use of HazMat labels unless the package contains a hazardous material and the label represents a hazard of the hazardous material in the package.  So far, so good.  Nothing in the HMR seems to prevent you from using a placard on a non-bulk packaging in place of the HazMat label.  Unfortunately, it is in the specifications for placards and HazMat labels where the regulations preclude you from replacing HazMat labels with placards on non-bulk packages.

  1.  §172.407(b)(3) sets the size requirement for diamond (square-on-point) HazMat labels, but interestingly, while it mandates a minimum size:  At least 100 mm (3.9 in) on each side, it does not set a maximum size, thus seemingly leaving open the possibility of using a placard [minimum size 250 mm (9.84 in) on each side].
  2. However, §172.407(c)(1) goes on to require a solid line inner border on the HazMat label 5.0 to 6.3 mm (0.2 to 0.25 inches) from the edge.  Whereas §172.509(c)(1) requires a placard to have a solid line inner border approximately 12.7 mm (0.5 inches) from each edge.  “Approximately” 0.5 inches from the edge gives you some leeway, but not enough, I don’t think, to meet the HazMat labels specs of 0.25 inches from the edge.
  3. Further, §172.407(c)(3) requires the hazard class number, or division number, as appropriate on a HazMat label, to be at least 6.3 mm (0.25 inches) and not greater than 12.7 mm (0.5 inches).  Whereas, for a placard, §172.509(c)(2) reads, “Except as otherwise provided in this subpart, the hazard class or division number, as appropriate, must be shown in numerals measuring at least 41 mm (1.6 inches) in height.”  So, the upper limit allowed for a numeral on a HazMat Label is still less than the lowest size allowed on a placard.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.  So, two things I learned from this experience:

  1. A placard can not be used in place of a HazMat label on a non-bulk packaging.
  2. Even a reliable source like the HazMat Info Line of the PHMSA can be mistaken.  There is no substitute for the regulations.  And before you make a decision that will impact your compliance with the HMR, make certain you have done your research and are comfortable with the HMR.  If you’re wrong, it won’t help you that you relied on the advice of a Specialist, a consultant, traffic cop, or even a training provider like me.  The burden of compliance is yours.