DOT HAZMAT Packaging Code

The U.S. government and its agencies have instituted innumerable rules, regulations and standards for nearly everything we do as a society. The Department of Transportation is one such agency with a long reach. It regulates everything from licensing drivers to transporting hazardous materials.

Every time we transport hazardous materials, we must ask the question, “What can we ship it in?” The Code of Federal Regulations Title 49 (CFR 49) compiles the rules governing the movement of hazardous substances. Part 173, Subpart B of the code outlines the requirements for preparing hazardous materials for shipping, including the selection of proper packaging.

Clear Container/Content Identification

Every DOT-approved shipping container and it contents must be clearly identified. Whether it is a drum, bag or cardboard box, it must carry specific markings. To comply with the rules and safely ship hazardous materials, we have to know how to read and understand the markings. A typical specification marking looks like this: 



Although this may look like a secret transmission for James Bond, it  actually is a thorough way to describe a container and its characteristics. Every portion of the sequence represents a different aspect of the container. Let’s decipher the code:

UN--The container meets the UN certification standards.

1A2 Package type — removable-head steel drum.

Y Packing group — meets requirements of packing groups II and III.

1.4 Specific gravity — 1.4.

100 Hydrostatic test pressure — The container is tested to withstand 100 kpa

02 Year of manufacture.

USA Country of manufacture.

M4717 Symbol or name and address of manufacturer.

The package type is one of the most important elements of the code. The letter, number, and letter sequence identify packaging variants such as containers and the materials that compose them. Table 1 summarizes the different package types, using information from 49 CFR 178.503. 

Coded Packaging Variants

Type of container

  1. Drum

  2. Wooden Barrel

  3. Jerrican

  4. Box

  5. Bag

  6. Conposite Packaging

  7. Pressure Receptacle


Material of construction

A Steel

B Aluminum

C Natural Wood

D Plywood

F Reconstructed Wood

G Fiberboard

H Plastic

L Textile

M Paper, Mult-Wall

N Other Metal

P Glass, Porcelain, Stoneware




For Drums:


  1. Non-Removable Head

  2. Removable Head



For Bags:


5M1 Multi-Wall Bags

5M2 Multi-Walled Bags, Water



The regulations for transporting hazardous materials are complex enough to be intimidating. The shipping process involves multiple steps and must be done with meticulous attention to many details. This article can only summarize a few short pages of 49 CFR, but both the DOT and private companies provide extensive training to help people meet the requirements for safe shipping. The training is important for everyone involved in and responsible for the safe transportation of hazardous materials

For more information or questions about DOT shipping requirements, 
call Hydro-Klean: (515) 283-0500.

Back to Project Library