Take Charge: Follow New Regulations to Help Ensure a Smooth Supply Chain

Lithium batteries present hazards for shippers, carriers and receivers if not safely packed and handled when transported

Bob Richard
Bob Richard

While lithium batteries deliver quality performance and reliability in numerous applications, the same technology that makes them so useful also presents unique hazards for shippers, carriers and receivers if not safely packed and handled when transported. As a result, regulations in the U.S. and around the world are being significantly revised to better ensure the safe transportation of lithium batteries.

The latest lithium battery regulation is the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) HM-224F, which represents a dramatic change for shipping the products by land, sea and air in the U.S.

With a mandatory compliance date of Feb. 6, HM-224F is designed to help bring lithium battery provisions in the U.S. in line with international standards, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Technical Instructions, the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code and the UN Model regulations.

HM-224F will affect a wide range of businesses—beyond those involved in the manufacturing, distribution and shipping of lithium batteries, and have a major impact on commerce in this country. Thousands of lithium battery shipments take place every day in the U.S. for use in everything from notebook computers and tablets to cameras, medical devices, cell phones, power tools and electric cars.

If companies do not change their procedures and packaged shipments appropriately by the mandatory compliance date, the carriers will reject their shipments. Mishandling these new regulations can result in your company’s lithium battery shipments being delayed, returned or even subject to fines.

Highlighting New Rule

The HM-224F standard reduces the excepted exception allowances for shipping lithium batteries, and requires new battery packing, marking and labeling requirements as part of this revised rule. Shippers will need to determine the types of lithium battery, their electric capacity and number, and how they are packaged.

Improvements noted by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) include the added use of reliable packaging, hazard communication, training of employees, inspection and acceptance checks before loading cargo aboard aircraft and pilot notification.

A summary of the changes includes:

  • 12/24 exception eliminated. Old provisions stated that if a package contained no more than 12 lithium batteries or 24 lithium cells, no hazard mark or documentation was required. The new regulations do not include this 12-battery/24-cell relief, which means many shipments will now be regulated as dangerous goods. In addition, the new provision distinguishes between modes of transport with regard to the size of the package and type of mark required.
  • New, simplified proper shipping names and UN numbers. To align with international standards, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) adopted alternative proper shipping names for lithium ion and lithium metal batteries and new UN numbers.
  • Low production runs and prototypes. The new regulations make it easier to ship prototypes. Special provisions for low-production lithium cells and batteries, and prototype lithium batteries by air were deleted and replaced by a new provision that’s more aligned with international standards. This change will alleviate the need to secure approvals from PHMSA for ground and rail shipments of prototype and low-production cells and batteries, but manufacturers still need approval for shipments by air.
  • Watt-hours replace equivalent lithium content. Under the previous regulations in the 49CFR, shippers needed to know the equivalent lithium content of the batteries being shipped. The new regulations replace equivalent lithium content with the more standard measure of watt-hours.
  • Cells and batteries packed with/in equipment. When packed with equipment, a lithium battery may be placed in inner packaging that meets the Packaging Group II performance requirements. For lithium batteries contained in equipment, the packaging is no longer required to be waterproof.
  • Shipping lithium cells or batteries for disposal/recycling. The final rule provides relief for cells and batteries that are transported by motor vehicle. In addition, small or medium batteries that would have been classified as fully regulated are now exempt when transported by motor carrier.
  • New paperwork retention for manufacturers. Lithium cell and battery manufacturers must create a record of satisfactory completion of the UN testing prior to offering the cell or battery for transport.

Shipping lithium batteries under the new regulations could become a complicated task for many businesses. Consider partnering with a provider of solutions for hazardous material shipping and transport compliance to help you ship lithium batteries safely and efficiently, and meet compliance. For example, Labelmaster is consulting with a number of organizations during this critical launch of the new regulation.

Reverse Logistics Affected

While the new regulations on shipping lithium batteries will undoubtedly impact a wide range of businesses that deal with lithium batteries or any kind of electronic equipment that uses them, there is another side of the supply chain that will be affected as well—reverse logistics.

No matter what direction a package travels in the supply chain, if it contains lithium batteries, the regulations will apply for proof-of-testing requirements, packaging, labeling and documentation.

In cases in which consumers are sending products back to retailers or manufacturers, the consumers are unlikely to be aware of the new regulations. This is something manufacturers should take into consideration, whether that means creating return-capable packaging for products containing lithium batteries or including a notice regarding the additional shipping regulations.

In Summary

The final rule on lithium batteries brings significant changes to the way lithium batteries must be transported in the U.S. With the elimination of the 12/24 exemption that many companies relied upon, shipping even a single AA lithium battery will require new procedures to be followed. Companies that were shipping excepted quantities are going to need to reclassify their products, train their employees and put new operating procedures in place to comply. However, the new regulations should help streamline shipments both in the U.S. and abroad.