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Understanding Hazmat Freight

When some drivers hear the words "Hazmat Freight," their minds may immediately go to freight that is dangerous in nature, or freight that is somewhat volatile and expensive. The very idea of hauling Hazmat freight may seem like a job that only a true trucking expert can accomplish, but in reality taking on a Hazmat haul is not as daunting as it may seem.

Hazmat freight comprises a great deal of the total cargo shipped throughout the country and represents a wide swath of items shipped to consumers across the nation.

Being able to competently and safely haul this type of freight is an incredibly valuable asset to promote in one's personal career, and may open up many trucking job opportunities across the country. With the proper amount of education and knowledge, just about anyone can haul Hazmat loads.

A truck ready to deliver hazmat freight

What type of Cargo is Hazmat Freight?

One of the preliminary facts that a driver will learn about Hazmat freight is that this type of freight is not all one category, but rather, multiple classes of Hazmat freight. To that end, there are divisions within these classes, making for an incredibly large family of Hazmat materials that one might haul.

In short, the primary classes of Hazmat freight are as follows:

  • Class 1 – Explosives materials
  • Class 2 – Gases: Non-flammable, flammable and toxic
  • Class 3 – Flammable and Combustible liquids
  • Class 4 – Flammable Solids, Combustible materials, Dangerous when wet materials
  • Class 5 – Oxidizers and Organic Peroxides
  • Class 6 – Toxic Materials and Infectious Substances
  • Class 7 – Radioactive Materials
  • Class 8 – Corrosive Materials
  • Class 9 – Miscellaneous Dangerous Goods

While a driver does not necessarily need to understand the complete ins and outs of each class, the above gives a driver a general idea of what they may be hauling and the level of conscientiousness they may need to take when they drive.

However, a driver shouldn't feel as though the above list is all too daunting, for more often than not the average consumer would come in contact with these goods on a daily basis. For example, something as commonplace as batteries are included in the Class 8 section, whereas perfumes and alcohols are in the Class 3 category.

Of course, transporting these goods and simply interacting with them may be entirely different stories, but the idea of interacting with substances that fall into the Hazmat classes should not turn a driver off to Hazmat-related positions entirely. 

Nine different classes of hazmat freight

Safety and Hazmat Freight

While safety is asked and expected of shippers transporting any type of material in their truck driving job, taking extra care while transporting Hazardous materials is something that the industry takes very seriously. Not just anyone can take on these loads, and despite talk of a driver shortage in the country, leniency regarding who may drive these loads has not been instated.

In order to transport hazmat loads in the first place, drivers must gain their Hazmat (H) Endorsement, a certification granted to a driver after educating themselves and taking the appropriate tests. This testing is not meant to exclude drivers from opportunities or to make the industry more of a hassle, but to ensure that only those with the proper knowledge about Hazmat transportation are behind the wheel when a driver is needed.

Not unlike other examinations that a driver must take over the course of their professional transportation career, there are several avenues online that may help one prepare. Drivers that search online will undoubtedly find several cdl hazmat practice test resources that will help guarantee a passing grade on the Hazmat endorsement exam.

Why Consider a Career Driving Hazmat Freight?

With many different options for one's trucker job, some may ask why a Hazmat job is worth pursuing, especially given some of the relative difficulties that it presents.

While there are some obstacles that one must overcome before being considered an applicant for these positions, many find that jumping through the hoops, as it were, proves to be an ultimately rewarding experience.

Every company will be slightly different in what they offer their drivers in terms of compensation, but for the most part, drivers in Hazmat positions will see a greater pay rate than those who are trucking with non-Hazmat loads.

Many companies will offer drivers with an H endorsement a bonus pay incentive per mile, or may offer drivers a monthly bonus, depending on their pay structure. As far as annual figures are concerned, pay will vary across the map, but many drivers report a yearly salary, on average, of $65,000 per year. This is merely a starting point for some drivers, for others it may even be at the lower end of the spectrum in regards to what they are eventually offered for their services.

In addition to the likelihood of increased pay, Hazmat freight can broaden one's horizons in the type of positions they might be offered on the road. If you are the type of driver whose career has grown stale due to a reduced amount of opportunities that you may be eligible, consider going through the process of attaining a Hazmat endorsement.

Lifestyle of a Hazmat Freight Driver

Because many Hazmat loads are commonplace items rather than strictly dealing with rare and dangerous substances, Hazmat drivers are seemingly always out on the road.

There may be a great deal of local opportunities when shipping Hazmat loads, but for the most part, many hazardous materials must be shipped long distances and often require a long haul trip. Driving flammable liquids often means driving gasoline and other types of fuel, and rarely is the source incredibly close to the ultimate delivery spot.

Length of routes aside, many companies will consider those who haul hazmat loads to be more professional than those who do not. This demonstrated level of expertise often leads to companies refusing to micromanage their H endorsement drivers, letting them feel truly free on the road.

Some truckers even thrive upon the challenge of making these deliveries, and feel as though they are true logistics professionals when diligently making these runs.

Understanding Hazmat Freight

It's one thing to pass a Hazmat-related test or find a trucking position in the hazardous materials field, but it's another entirely to understand the nature of the freight you are hauling.

Like driving people or livestock, even inanimate freight can be unpredictable or require special procedures when transporting it. A truly excellent trucker knows how temperamental certain freight can be and how to handle moving it accordingly.

Part of being an expert in your field is not just operating by the rule book or playing it safe, but possessing the ability to be reactive to situations is key, specifically those that may potentially be dangerous in some context. Should an unexpected or rocky incident on the road arise, it's important to know how to act quickly, act with compliance, and act with confidence.

No driver wants to be in a situation where they are at a loss for how to act because their freight may be endangered by road conditions or other circumstances on their route. Take the time to do your research and get a feel for the materials you are hauling.

Better yet, one should consult other industry professionals and those with a background in driving Hazmat freight. Pick the brains of those who have experience in this line of work and find out what their recommendations and best practices are in order to truck wisely and to drive safely.

Hazmat loads share the road with conventional freight

Hazmat Freight: Necessary Knowledge For the Beginning Driver

No matter what one's ultimate career aspirations may be, it never hurts to educate yourself in various areas of knowledge in trucking. Even if Hazmat loads are not the most interesting or significant subject to you, there is nothing wrong with exploring the subject matter in order to make yourself a well-versed operator on the road.

To that end, going the extra mile to receive your Hazmat endorsement is a wise move as well, even if you think that this particular trucking path is not up your alley. Coming to an employer with knowledge of the hazardous freight world and an H endorsement in hand is a very valuable asset and may make you an outstanding candidate over the likes of other, less diversified and experienced driver.
If nothing else, consider taking a practice test online to challenge your knowledge of Hazmat-related trucking – you may be surprised at the amount of know-how that you pick up by virtue of being involved in the commercial transportation industry.

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