Editor's Note: This originally appeared on the website of our sister publication, PARCEL, but we thought our Mailing Systems Technology readers would find it helpful, as well.

On July 9, 2023, updates to the United States Postal Service’s Publication 52: Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Mail, took effect.

The update includes new requirements for how parcel shippers identify, categorize, and separate their hazardous materials shipments. The goal of the update is to standardize the acceptance and handling of package shipments containing hazardous materials/dangerous goods (HAZMAT/DG), and to improve the safety and security of hazardous materials shipments, the equipment, and those who handle the packages.

Postal regulations change and can be challenging to navigate, but knowing the specifics – and working with a trusted partner – can bring clarity to the confusion.

Here are the top takeaways about the updates to publication 52, and best practices for how to navigate future shipping regulations.

Publication 52: Who and what is affected?

Publication 52 serves to standardize the labeling, identification, and categorization of hazardous materials being shipped, and to update the technology used in the process. These new requirements stem from the number of accidents, injuries, and damage caused by improper identification of HAZMAT packages.

For shippers, this means new labels, barcodes, and indicators have been introduced for the type of hazardous material that is being shipped. Starting July 9, shippers needed to have these changes implemented and their systems updated accordingly to avoid any disruptions in their hazardous materials shipping operations (as well as any fines and penalties handed down by the USPS).

The update also introduces new packaging requirements for these materials. HAZMAT must be packaged in containers that are constructed to meet the requirements specified by the USPS in each applicable packaging instruction, as you can see here. The containers must be strong enough to withstand normal handling, protect the contents from damage, and prevent leakage or spillage during transportation. It will also require many items to be packaged separately from other items, which means shippers will need to consider new packaging solutions to meet these standards.

HAZMAT applies to more products than some realize. Lithium batteries and flammable materials, certainly, but also products such as nail polish, some cosmetics, cologne and perfume, and even smoke detectors. See the full list of items here.

Preparing for future changes

Get out in front of them as early as you can. Although regulatory updates like this typically come months in advance of the effective date, the resulting updates required of the shipper can take time to plan and implement. In this case, potentially having to source and use new packaging for HAZMAT products can be a big task, so the further ahead a shipper can plan, the better.

Have trusted partners to lean on. Direct communication with government agencies and regulating bodies can be difficult, so having partners like OSM to help translate and apply the changes that need to be made can save your business a lot of time and energy. As an outside agency working closely with the USPS, OSM is focused on helping customers navigate similar issues.

Be flexible to moving targets or “updates to the updates.” With any type of regulation, understand the severity of deadlines and any changes that may happen to previously stated policies.

Deadlines often move or have levels of enforcement in order to allow shippers to make the changes required to fully comply in phases, thereby lessening the immediate costs and business impacts. Stay in contact with your shipping partner for this type of information or have notifications set up for your team so they are always on top of the latest information.

Bill Sweeney, director of customer experience at OSM Worldwide, delivers best-in-class products and services to clients. With more than 30 years in the logistics industry, Bill has held roles in operations, sales, quality assurance, business development and customer experience. Prior to his logistics career, Bill served 13 years in the U.S. Armed Forces. Contact him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/wrsweeney/ or email bsweeney@osmworldwide.com. Visit https://www.osmworldwide.com/ for more information.