Shippers should treat every item they send out with the care
it needs, and the best possible version of that care. If they are fragile, use
the right cushioning, materials, and packaging to prevent damage during transit.
If they are not, do what you can to preserve them anyway. That is just
When it comes to hazardous materials, though, you definitely
cannot afford to skimp on quality. If anything happens to them, the
consequences can be disastrous and deadly. Hazardous labels are a crucial part
of maintaining safety during shipping. Read on to learn more about deciphering
them and using them correctly.
What are Hazard Labels?
Are you familiar with the poison dart frog? These amphibians
are among the most toxic animals on Earth. Their skin comes in a variety of
vivid colors, advertising their dangerous nature. Would-be predators take one
look and leave them alone, knowing that making a meal of these frogs is a
Hazard labels serve a similar function for packages and
vehicles containing hazardous materials. These bright, colorful, diamond-shaped
tags are designed to communicate one important message: handle with extreme
care and caution. The numbers and symbols provide further details on proper
handling for those who understand them, namely shippers and truckers.
They come in two forms. Some labels are meant to be stuck on
boxes and other containers. Placards must be placed on trucks, in full view
where other vehicles on the road can see them. Either way, shipping workers are
required to only use hazard labels approved by the US Department of
What are the 9 Hazard Classes?
The US Code of Federal Regulations Title 49 (49 CFR)
separates all hazardous materials into nine categories, which may be further
separated into several divisions. Each hazard
class corresponds to a different type of hazard. Each one also gets its own
label, with its own distinct color and the class number on the bottom corner.
Here is a brief guide. Please note that hazmat labels and placards may differ
in certain details.
The first class is reserved for arguably the most concerning
threat of them all: explosive hazards. Materials in this class may react in
certain ways that instantly unleash destructive forces, with little chance to
detect, prevent, contain, or escape it.
These labels are orange. Divisions 1.1A, 1.2B, and 1.3C feature
a graphic of lines and bits bursting from a cracked circle. Divisions 1.4, 1.5
(which uses the term “Blasting Agent” rather than “Explosive” for clarity), and
1.6 feature those numbers in a larger font.
If specific conditions can cause a material to produce a
dangerous gas, it belongs in Class 2. Five different labels/placards represent
the three divisions and the class as a whole:
Flammable Gas (2.1) — red with a flame symbol
Non-Flammable Gas (2.2) — green with a graphic of
a compressed gas cylinder
Toxic Gas (2.3) — white with a skull and
Inhalation Hazard — white with a skull and
crossbones contained within its own black diamond on the top corner
Oxygen — yellow with a ring on fire
Depending on the nature of the hazards in the materials
being transported, more than one of these may be used in combination.
Class 3 is exclusively home to flammable and combustible
liquids, with no further divisions. The associated color is red. There is only
one label: “Flammable Liquid,” with an image of fire. There are three placards,
all identical to the label except for the words: “Flammable,” “Combustible,”
and “Fuel Oil.”
With gases and liquids covered, Class 4 finishes the series
with flammable solids. All three divisions have their own label/placard. While
all three share the flame icon, their color schemes are all different:
Flammable Solid (4.1) — alternating crimson and
Spontaneously Combustible (4.2) — white top half
and crimson bottom half
Dangerous When Wet (4.3) — Light blue all over
Oxidizers and organic peroxide both feature oxygen as a key
ingredient. Both are vulnerable to the reaction known as oxidation, which can
start fires. Both are lumped into Class 5 together as Divisions 5.1 and 5.2
The labels and placards look different from each other. The
oxidizers design is all yellow, and the image is a ring whose top part is
ablaze. Meanwhile, the one for organic peroxide is crimson on top and yellow on
bottom. Its image is the familiar flame. As with all hazmat labels and
placards, the names are visible for greater clarity.
Class 6 only breaks down into two divisions: poisonous
materials (6.1) and infectious substances (6.2). Despite this, shipments of
these materials may require any of four different hazmat placards. The designs
include Poison, Toxic, Inhalation, and PG III (short for Packing Group III,
which encompasses substances representing “low danger”).
One design is unique to the hazmat labels. This is likely
because it comes with a warning that must be written in text too small for
drivers to see on a truck. The big text identifies the contents of the package
as “Infectious Substance.” The small text reads, in full, “In Case of Damage or
Leakage, Immediately Notify Public Health Authority.”
Only select groups of shippers will ever need to work with
hazardous materials that fall under Class 7. This designation is for
radioactive materials, such as uranium and certain ores. There are no
divisions, so there is only one placard: mostly white, with a yellow section at
the top containing the international radioactivity symbol.
On the other hand, the labels come in four different
designs. “Radioactive I” looks identical to the placard, but the section with
the symbol is also white. “Radioactive II” and “Radioactive III” look identical
to the placard, albeit with boxes in the bottom half for “Transport Index.” The
last one, which reads “Fissile,” is white all over, with a line across the
middle and a box for “Criticality Safety Index.”
Acids, lye, and certain batteries and dyes all have
corrosive properties. With the wrong reactions and insufficient packaging, they
may melt through metal, skin, and more. Class 8 materials require exceptional
care, but not exceptional effort to mark.
One label/placard design is all you need. It is white on
top, black on bottom, with ominous graphics of test tubes dripping holes into a
black bar and a pair of hands.
Class 9 & More
For everything else, there is Class 9. The miscellaneous
category cannot have divisions by definition, so as with Class 8, only one
design is needed. The bottom half is white. The other half has black columns
jutting from the top, interrupting the white, and stopping at an invisible line
in the middle.
Speaking of miscellaneous, there are several other hazard
labels out there that do not correspond to a specific class or division. One
notable placard for trucks features red triangles enclosing a white band with
text that simply reads “Dangerous.” Others communicate various details that
shippers and vehicle operators may find useful. We advise consulting your
manager and more experienced co-workers if you have any questions.
Where Do I Put Them?
One should always keep visibility in mind when applying any
labels, but hazard labels are especially important. Handling hazardous
materials without being aware of it is a recipe for catastrophe. To avoid such
a risk, hazard labels should be placed beside the UN number and proper shipping
name. If the package is large enough, all this information should be on the
same side — and not on the bottom.
Hazmat placards are not much bigger than ordinary hazmat
labels. However, the bulk packaging and truck holds on which you affix them are
substantially larger. To get the vital message across, 49 CFR requires shipping
workers to place them on all sides. As with poison dart frogs and their
predators, drivers on any side of the transport vehicle can recognize the danger
and move cautiously.
Hazard Labels at Tigerpak
No matter what hazard labels
you may need, you can find them here at Tigerpak. We also offer a diverse
selection of hazmat
placards for vehicular operations. Our store is dedicated to providing
people with everything they need for safe shipping.