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Hazmat Placards; DOT Guide and 13 Actionable Tips

Hazmat placards on the surface seem simple, but they’re not (I guess we have attorneys and lobbyists to thank for that). In this guide you’ll learn the basics of what you need to know, plus some actionable tips you can use on the road.

hazmat placard regulations

The thing is, once you understand how to check compliance, it’s really not that hard.If you’re a company that has its own  hazmat training program, this is a topic you should spend more time on, it can save you some headaches in the end.

Related: When do I need a hazmat endorsement?

Hazmat Placards, What are they?

Hazmat placards are signage that have been designated by DOT to indicate the presence and severity of a hazardous material or dangerous good while in commerce. Placards use symbols, colors and text to communicate the hazard and are placed on the outside of transport vehicles, totes (IBCs), portable tanks and other packaging during transportation.

DOT Placards; Why do they matter?

Besides communicating the hazard, hazmat placards can determine other DOT compliance issues such as:

  • Whether or not you need  a hazmat endorsement on a CDL
  • Additional Federal and State permits, 
  • How many DOT regulations get applied to you.

Applying the wrong hazmat placards to the load, not displaying enough of them or displaying them improperly, can potentially get you placed out of service under CVSA guidelines. Of course if you’re placed out of service, it can cost you time or money, or both.

Did I mention CSA points? Yep, you’ll rack up a bunch of those too. In fact, add two extra points if you’re placed out of service.

Three basic things that determine DOT placards

For basic placarding purposes, there are three key pieces of information that you need to know right under your nose – in fact, right on the paperwork that was handed to you.

These three pieces of information that we need to know are:

  • The hazard class and/or division (if a division is appropriate);
  • Total Weight of each hazardous material; 
  • The type of package that it’s in, either bulk or non bulk.

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DOT Hazard Classes and Divisions

What is a hazard class? 

A hazard class is a category that DOT has assigned to a hazard (or dangerous good) under defining criteria for classification of hazardous materials in the regulations. Some hazard classes are further ‘divided’ to create a division within a particular hazard class. 

The 9 DOT hazard classes are: 

Class 1 – Explosives

Explosives are further divided into 6 divisions. The lower the division number, the greater the hazard or in this case, the bigger the boom.

  • 1.1 – Explosives, with mass explosion hazard
  • 1.2 – Explosives, with a projection hazard
  • 1.3 – Explosives, with predominantly a fire hazard
  • 1.4 – Explosives, with no significant blast hazard
  • 1.5 – Very insensitive explosives; blasting agents
  • 1.6 – Extremely insensitive detonating substances

Class 2 – Gases

  • 2.1 – Flammable gas
  • 2.2 – Non flammable gas
  • 2.3 – Poison gas

Class 3 – Flammable

Flammable and combustible liquids

What is the number at the bottom of a placard?

The number located on the bottom of a hazmat placard references one of the nine hazard classes that hazardous materials are categorized in. Placards that do not have this number are not in compliance and should not be used.

Class 4 – Flammable Solids

  • 4.1 – Flammable solid
  • 4.2 – Spontaneously combustible material
  • 4.3 – Dangerous when wet material

Class 5 – Oxidizers

  • 5.1 – Oxidizers
  • 5.2 – Organic peroxide

Class 6 – Poisons

  • 6.1 – Poisonous materials
  • 6.2 – Infectious substances (etiological agent)

Class 7 – Radioactive Materials

Class 8 – Corrosives material

Class 9 – Miscellaneous hazardous material

To understand hazmat placarding, you need to be familiar with these nine classes. DOT uses these hazard classes to put hazardous materials into two different tables (or groups) based on the severity of the hazard and how much material is being shipped. 

It’s these placarding tables (or groups) that tell you whether or not you need to put placards on any DOT regulated shipment, from a transport vehicle, tote (IBC), portable tank or other hazmat package. 

dot placards improper display
Not sure what’s more dangerous; the load or the art project

Hazmat placard requirements

Generally speaking (although there can be exceptions) each bulk packaging, unit load device, freight container and transport vehicle must be placarded as required on each side and each end for hazardous materials. 

However, when it comes to non bulk hazardous materials and certain hazard classes the requirement isn’t quite as simple. This is where DOT separates the nine hazard classes into the two placarding tables (again, think groups) each with their own requirements:

  • Table 1 Placards: Placard for any amount
  • ​Table 2 placards: Placard for 1,001lbs or more of aggregate gross weight.

​Next, we’re going to break down each one of these tables.

dot placards

Table 1 hazmat

Table 1 placards represent the major bad boys of the hazardous materials world and are generally items that I ‘affectionately’ refer to as the “kill you now” materials. Poison gases, volatile explosives for example, need to be taken seriously.

Hazardous materials listed on Table 1:

  • Explosives – 1.1, 1.2, 1.3
  • Gases – 2.3; poisonous by inhalation
  • Dangerous when wet – 4.3
  • Organic peroxide type B, liquid or solid, temperature controlled – 5.2
  • Materials poisonous by inhalation – 6.1; these are generally considered liquids or solids that are giving off fumes. Materials in hazard class/division 2.3 are in a gas form.
  • Radioactive 7; Not all radioactive materials require placards, only those materials that are required to be labeled “yellow III”.

Apply DOT placards for ANY Amount of the following:

Category of material (Hazard class or division number and additional description, as appropriate)Placard name
1.3EXPLOSIVES 1.3
2.3POISON GAS
4.3DANGEROUS WHEN WET
5.2 (Organic peroxide, Type B, liquid or solid, temperature controlled)ORGANIC PEROXIDE
6.1 (material poisonous by inhalationPOISON INHALATION HAZARD
7 (Radioactive Yellow III label only)RADIOACTIVE

When to placard for Table 1 hazardous materials

Now for the magical question –

What hazards are required to be placarded in any amount?

This is the easy part –

ANY AMOUNT

If you are transporting any amount of a Table 1 hazardous material, you MUST put placards on the transport vehicle. It doesn’t matter if you have a half pound, a pound, 900lbs, onboard your vehicle… you must have placards. 

It also doesn’t matter the size of the transport vehicle. If you are transporting a table 1 hazardous material in commerce on a bicycle, you must have placards on that bike. Also a CDL, but that’s a discussion for another time! 🙂

Other Things to remember about Table 1 hazardous materials

You’re going to need extra hazardous materials permits. In fact you will need at least one permit or possibly two federal permits, depending on the product you’re hauling. 

For quantities of certain Table 1 materials you may also need an FMCSA “Safety Permit” which may be in addition to any required state permits that may be required. Drivers, check with your company, companies check with the appropriate authorities in your state.

You may also need things such as a written route plan as well, explosives generally require this.

Table 2 hazmat- When to Placard

Now we’ll get into a bit of territory everyone has a general idea about, but also have the most confusion. 

For the materials listed on table 2, you must apply DOT placards for all hazardous materials (unless an exception apples) once you have 1,001 pounds of aggregate gross weight.

What is aggregate gross weight? It simply means that you add up the weight of all packages plus their contents and include that towards the 1,001 pounds. This is also why you should check the total weight of materials on your shipping paper.

Table 2 Hazardous Materials

Category of material (Hazard class or division number and additional description, as appropriate)Placard name
1.4EXPLOSIVES 1.4
1.5EXPLOSIVES 1.5
1.6EXPLOSIVES 1.6
2.1FLAMMABLE GAS
2.2NON-FLAMMABLE GAS
3COMBUSTIBLE
Combustible LiquidCOMBUSTIBLE
4.1FLAMMABLE SOLID
4.2SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUSTIBLE
5.1OXIDIZER
5.2 (Other than organic peroxide, Type B, liquid or solid, temperature controlledORGANIC PEROXIDE
6.1 (other than material poisonous by inhalation)POISON
6.2(None)
8CORROSIVE
9MISCELLANEOUS

Who provides hazmat placards

According to the hazardous materials regulations, shippers are required to provide carriers with placards for all of the materials that are being offered for transportation. However, if the carrier (or driver) is already placarded for the same material that the shipper is offering, the shipper is not required to provide additional hazmat placards. 

Shippers are required to supply you with placards, not put them on the truck. That’s the drivers job.

Always remember this;

A carrier can’t transport hazardous material at all unless they’re placarded for the hazardous materials being transported as required. 

Using HAZMAT placards to Identify a Shipment

Placards are used to both communicate the hazard inside the vehicle or packaging as well as help identify the articles or dangerous goods themselves. DOT placards include all or some of the following:

Color – red for flammable, orange for explosives for example

Symbols/graphics – picture of a skull or flames

Text (not always required)

Hazard class number (at the bottom of the placard)

Compatibility group letters for explosives (ex. 1.1D). Compatibility letters are used in segregating explosives from each other during transport. 

UN Identification numbers

It’s important to note that although it’s common to see UN numbers on placards, they are not technically part of the placard itself. UN numbers are considered markings in the regulations. The placard is just one of the three ways to display the number and are required if there is a bulk amount of hazmat inside a trailer. 

Let’s say you’re transporting hazmat and using placards that have the UN number on them. If the placard and the UN number both have issues during and inspection, you can get hit with two violations instead of just one for the placard. 

A common example would be the placard doesn’t meet color requirements and the UN number on the placard doesn’t meet size requirements. It’s a two for one deal for DOT.

When all the information is combined together, hazmat placards can tell either the driver, carrier, shipper or a first responder what hazards they can expect inside the packaging or what is being shipped. 

non flammable gas placard improper display
Nobody likes leftovers – An example of why you should do a good walk around before getting started. A driver would be cited for this.

DOT requirements for placard display

These are items right out of the regulations on how placards are required to be displayed.

  • ​Placards must be displayed on all 4 sides of a transport vehicle. The front placard can be on the front of the trailer or the front of the truck.
  • ​They must be visible from the direction they face while looking at the vehicle. For example, if you’re looking at the left side of the trailer/vehicle, you should clearly see the placard.
  • ​Placards must be securely attached to the vehicle and not flopping in the breeze or about to come off.
  • ​Have to be located away from appurtenances and devices. That’s federal-ease for being clear of ladders, pipes and other attachments of the trailer so that they’re not obscuring the placard.
  • ​Any lettering or numbers on the placard (when required) must read horizontally, left to right.
  • ​Be maintained in good condition; They need to be clean, not torn up and the right color. Pink does not pass for red.
  • ​​Have to be on a background so that the color clearly contrasts or must have a dotted line or solid line border. A good example is a flammable placard on the side of a trailer that has a code ad. The flammable placard has a solid white line that sets the placard apart from the ad, so it’s legal.
  • ​Hazmat placards must be at least 9.84″ on each side with the border .5″ from the edge.
  • ​Text on placards (such as “flammable”) is not required on placards unless it is Radioactive (class 7), Dangerous (that text is required). If you’re hauling Oxygen, you can leave the text off if you are displaying the specific identification number for Oxygen.
combustible liquid placard faded
Is this placard in compliance? Signs say no.

tips for Hazmat Placard Compliance

Here is a list of a few things to remember when you’re placarding your vehicle and transporting hazardous material in general.

  • ​Not hauling hazmat or just picked up a new trailer? Make sure on your pre-trip that there are no leftover placards. They’re hard to get off, so I recommend duct tape to cover up what’s left over as a quick fix. Make sure the fix isn’t in the diamond shape of the placard!
  • ​Do not display “Drive Safely” placards. It can be confused with other placards and hasn’t been legal in years, but many vehicles still have them.
  • ​Trouble keeping your placards in the holder? DO NOT use coat hangers!. I recommend clear packing tape. It’s clear (of course) which means it won’t obscure the placard. Watch for discoloration.
  • ​Yes, you can placard permissively. Just know that when you do, you must follow all the placard rules for display.
  • ​Shippers are required to give you placards unless you are already transporting the same hazmat and have those placards on your truck already.
  • ​Make sure your hazmat endorsement is good. In some states the endorsement expires before the CDL does.
  • ​Be sure all of your required hazmat permits are up to date. If you’re not sure, ask the company.
  • ​Make sure you have your Emergency Response Guidebook, Safety Safety Data Sheet (SDS) or some other emergency response information within your reach.
  • ​Companies or employers, make sure all of your people are getting hazmat training. It’s required by DOT and OSHA. 

Hazmat Placards FAQs

DOT placards remain one of the biggest reasons drivers and carriers receive citations and violations when transporting hazardous materials. To help out with that, I’ve put together a list of questions I’ve been asked over the years. Enjoy.

Q: Is it illegal to store placards in your tractor whether you need them or not?

A: No, it’s not illegal to just have them in your vehicle, as long they are not being displayed publicly. 

Q: Can you still display a placard on a vehicle if you have below 1,001lbs of product onboard?

A: Yes, you can display placards permissively as long as they are in compliance with hazmat rules.

Q: Do I put the front placard on the front of the trailer or the truck?

A:  You can do either one. 

Q: When are you required to display a UN number on a placard?

A: UN numbers are not required to be displayed on placards, because they fall under marking rules and not placarding rules. UN numbers must be displayed on a transport vehicle when certain quantities have been met.

Q: Is the driver or shipper required to apply the placards on a container van or bulk trailer?

A: The shipper is only required to supply them, the driver should ensure they are applied

dot placards on trailer
Looks like things were missed on the pre-trip

Hazmat Placards – The Big Wrap Up

Computer programs and apps are great but there’s no substitute for knowing what the rules are for hazmat placards. Remember that this article outlines basic placarding rules and there are many exceptions to when placards need to be applied. That’s what makes it confusing sometimes. 

Placarding violations have remained one of the biggest reasons that drivers get fined, and placed out of service. This in turn causes companies to rack up CSA points in the Safety Management System and elevate their hazardous materials BASIC. 

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