Despite its frequent use in the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) of the Department of Transportation (DOT), the term “shipper” is not clearly defined in the regulations. Yet if you offer for shipment a hazardous material or hazardous waste (i.e. arrange for a carrier to transport it from your site to its final destination), then your actions categorize you as a shipper and subject you to all the applicable requirements of the HMR.
In order to codify the long-standing interpretations of the term shipper, DOT amended the HMR under final rulemaking HM-223A (70 FR 43638, 7.28.05) to add a definition to 49 CFR 171.8 for “person who offers or offeror” that reads:
Person who offers or offeror means:
(1) Any person who does either or both of the following:
(i) Performs, or is responsible for performing, any pre-transportation function required under this subchapter for transportation of the hazardous material in commerce.
(ii) Tenders or makes the hazardous material available to a carrier for transportation in commerce.
(2) A carrier is not an offeror when it performs a function required by this subchapter as a condition of acceptance of a hazardous material for transportation in commerce ( e.g. , reviewing shipping papers, examining packages to ensure that they are in conformance with this subchapter, or preparing shipping documentation for its own use) or when it transfers a hazardous material to another carrier for continued transportation in commerce without performing a pre-transportation function.
This still doesn’t define what a shipper is, but in its interpretations (05-0188) DOT states, “When the word ‘shipper’ is used, such as in the title of Part 173 – Shippers-General Requirements for Shipments and Packagings that word refers to a person who prepares a shipment for transportation.” Therefore, a person who performs any of the activities in 1(i) or 1(ii) above would fit DOT’s interpretation of a shipper for the HMR.
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The definition states explicitly in (2) that a carrier is not an offeror when it performs the routine functions of a carrier prior to acceptance of the hazardous material for transportation. However, if a person contracts with a carrier to perform all pre-transportation functions as defined in 49 CFR 171.8, then the carrier would also be the offeror and therefore have all the responsibilities assigned to the offeror/shipper in the HMR (10-0155).
It is possible that the duties of an 0fferor are performed by more than on party. For example a generator of a hazardous waste may contract with a waste hauler to perform some of the pre-transportation functions prior to its off-site transportation. In this scenario, both the hazardous waste generator and the waste hauler are subject to the regulations as offerors (01-0024).
The DOT is deliberately vague about the the definition of a shipper and when a person may be an offeror. Its intent is to ensure the responsibilities of the shipper and the offeror are clear, but the assignment of those responsibilities is up to the parties involved.
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If you read this far it is likely that in some way you meet the definition of an offeror or the interpretation of a shipper. If so, then it is also likely you are a HazMat Employer and have HazMat Employees who require the training mandated by the DOT at 49 CFR 172, Subpart H. And, if you generate any hazardous waste, it is also likely you require the training for facility personnel mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 40 CFR 265.16.