Last reviewed 16 January 2020

In this Special Report, Sara Wilson (DGSA) of Seil Synergies Ltd outlines the requirements for transport documentation for the surface carriage of dangerous goods.


Dangerous goods transported by road, sea, air, rail and inland waterway are subject to regulatory control. This article considers the transport document required for the carriage of dangerous goods by the main transport modes used in the UK, that is by road and sea.

Regulatory background

Since 1956 the United Nations has published Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods — Model Regulations, with the aim of protecting public safety. The Model Regulations are intended to control transport operations in order to prevent, or mitigate as far as possible, the effects of incidents or accidents involving dangerous goods, while providing a system that does not hamper the safe movement of such goods.

The UN Model Regulations are in a constant state of revision to take account of technical progress, the development of new substances with hazardous properties, and the requirements of modern transport systems.

While not regulations in themselves, the UN Model Regulations are addressed to governments and international organisations concerned with the safety and regulation of the transport of dangerous goods. They provide a framework of basic provisions into which the special requirements of national and international regulations for the different modes of transport (road, rail, marine, inland waterway and air) may be incorporated, thereby ensuring a degree of consistency between the modes and worldwide harmonisation.

The Model Regulations

The UN Model Regulations are adapted and implemented by regulations published for the different modes of transport. Those of interest for this article are as follows.

  • Sea: the International Maritime Organisation's International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code.

  • Road: the European Agreement Concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR) (taken from the acronym for the title of the French version of the regulations). In addition, variances to ADR may be made in bilateral or multilateral agreements between the signatory countries to ADR.

  • UK road transport: the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2009 (SI 2009 No. 1348) and the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010 (SR 2010 No. 160) both amended in 2011 and accompanied by the (jointly made) Carriage of Dangerous Goods: Approved Derogations and Transitional Provisions.

The Transport Document

One of the vital aspects in the carriage of dangerous goods is the provision of information in the form of a transport document (often also known as Dangerous Goods Notes (DGNs)).

What is the transport document used for?

Communication of basic hazard information is necessary to enable vital decisions to be made concerning handling, segregation and stowage of dangerous goods, and also the actions to be taken in an emergency involving those goods. The UN's Guiding Principles, which supplement the UN Model Regulations, state that whenever dangerous goods are offered for transport, certain measures should be taken to ensure that the potential risks the dangerous goods pose in transport are correctly communicated.

Traditionally this has been accomplished by marking and labelling of packages and the placarding of transport units, and by the inclusion of relevant information in the dangerous goods transport documents. The basic items of information considered necessary for all categories of dangerous goods offered for transport by any mode are identified in Chapter 5.4 of the Model Regulations. However, it is acknowledged that it may be necessary for individual national authorities or international organisations to require additional information.

Are there problems with transport documents?

Unfortunately, experience shows that there is a significant problem when it comes to compliance with this provision of the dangerous goods regulations, and the consequences can be devastating.


  • In Britain, more than a fifth of ADR vehicles checked at the roadside from 1 April 2018 to 5 March 2019 were served with prohibition notices, and more than 40% of these were due to inadequate or missing transport documents.

  • The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s (DVSA) Operator Compliance Risk Score (OCRS) system is a means of categorising and targeting non-compliant companies. The highest Risk Category (1) is assigned where failure to comply with ADR creates a high level of risk of death, serious personal injury or significant damage to the environment, requiring immediate and appropriate corrective measure. It is an indication of the seriousness of the offence, that the carriage of dangerous goods without documentation is placed into Risk Category 1.


  • A similarly worrying situation also arises in maritime transport, where it is estimated that a fire occurs every 60 days. In 2011, shipping lines concerned about cargo-related incidents came together to set up the Cargo Incident Notification Scheme. Analysis of the data collected shows that out of 500 potentially life-threatening incidents on-board box ships, nearly one quarter were found to be cases involving misdeclared cargo, mostly dangerous goods. Fire at sea, which can happen thousands of miles from land and many hours away from help from the nearest ship, is a terrifying occurrence and is one of the top three causes of loss for marine vessels.

Transport Document Formatting

Both the UN Model Regulations and the regulations for road and sea provide a template (multimodal dangerous goods form) for the format in which the transport document may be provided. However, it is the information required that is prescribed by these regulations, not the format of the document itself.

The situation is not the same for air carriage, where the Shipper's Declaration must use the same wording and format as the specimen declaration forms given in the International Air Transport Authority (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations. Consequently, very few use the multimodal (including air) format.

The information requirements of the transport document for road and sea may therefore be incorporated in other documentation, such as a delivery or consignment note. As well as the multimodal dangerous goods form found in the regulations, other organisations have produced standardised transport documents that may be used, such as the following.

  • The United Nations' Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR) International Consignment Note provides a common transport contract with harmonised liability limits for international road transport, and includes a common consignment note.

  • Another well-recognised transport document for the carriage of dangerous goods by road and sea in Europe was the Simpler Trades Procedures Board (SITPRO) Dangerous Goods Note. Although Dangerous Goods Note templates are still available from commercial suppliers, the SITPRO organisation was disbanded in 2010, and the useful SITPRO International Trade Guides: Dangerous Goods Note Completion Guide has not been revised since the 2009 edition, which can still be found on various internet sites. ADR and the IMDG Code have been revised many times since this date, with some changes affecting the information to be given in the transport document which are not included in the 2009 guide.

Where a dangerous goods document extends over more than one page, the pages must be numbered consecutively.

The transport document — the medium, availability, archiving and language

The transport document is to be provided by the consignor of dangerous goods to the carrier, and must normally be carried in the vehicle during road transport (an exemption for low loads is described later). It may be provided electronically as long as the means used for data capture, storage and processing provide at least the same availability during transport as the hard copy document. The electronic data must also meet the same legal requirements (regarding evidence) that are provided by the equivalent paper document, and must have the capability of being provided to the carrier as a paper document.

A provision stemming from the GB regulations, and now found in both ADR and the IMDG Code, is the requirement for both the consignor and carrier to retain a copy of the transport document for a minimum of three months following completion of the journey. However, there may be other commercial legal reasons for archiving for a longer period of time. The retained documents can be held electronically, but must be capable of being printed out.

ADR requires the dangerous goods information in the transport document to be given in an official language of the forwarding country, but where that language is not English, French or German, a copy must be provided in one of these languages as well. However, provision is made for variances to this, by agreement between the individual countries concerned in the transport operation. Examples are as follows.

  • Multilateral Agreement M85 permits the use of Danish, Swedish or Norwegian for carriage both within and between Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

  • Multilateral Agreement M178 permits the use of Portuguese or Spanish for carriage between Portugal and Spain.

The full list of ADR Bilateral and Multilateral Agreements can be found here.

The large container or vehicle packing certificate

When dangerous goods are transported by sea in a vehicle or container, those responsible for the loading must provide a signed and dated container/vehicle packing certificate to the carrier, confirming that the loading operation was carried out in accordance with the following conditions.

  • The container/vehicle was clean, dry and apparently fit to receive the goods.

  • Packages that must be segregated for safety reasons in accordance with the segregation requirements of the IMDG Code were not packed together onto or in the container/vehicle.

  • All packages were externally inspected for damage, and only sound packages were loaded.

  • Drums were stowed in an upright position, and all goods were properly loaded, and where necessary, adequately braced with securing material to suit the modes of transport for the intended journey.

  • Goods loaded in bulk were evenly distributed within the container/vehicle.

  • For consignments including goods of Class 1 (explosives) other than division 1.4, the container was structurally serviceable in accordance with paragraph 7.1.2 of the IMDG Code, eg there were no major defects such as dents or bends in the structural components.

  • When solid carbon dioxide (dry ice) is used for cooling purposes, the container/vehicle is externally marked in accordance with the regulations.

  • A dangerous goods document has been received for each dangerous goods consignment loaded in the container or vehicle.

The certificate takes the form of a signed declaration by the person responsible for packing/loading the vehicle/container: “I hereby declare the goods described above have been packed/loaded into the container/vehicle identified above in accordance with the applicable provisions.”

“The applicable provisions” here refer to the conditions described in the list above as found in section 5.4.2 of the IMDG Code. This certificate may be a separate document attached to the transport document, but is more commonly incorporated within the transport document, as can be found in the template provided in the UN Recommendations, ADR and the IMDG Code, and also in the SITPRO Dangerous Goods Note.

There has been much discussion in the past over who should sign the container/vehicle packing certificate, especially for groupage operations where several shippers are responsible for loading part loads into a container or vehicle. To help clarify the situation the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) has published a guidance note on the interpretation of the certification and vehicle/container packing certificate requirements.

This makes it clear that if the consignor loads the dangerous goods (including securing and correctly segregating the whole load for sea transport), affixes the placards and any marks to the cargo transport unit for sea transport and closes the whole container prior to transport to the ship, then he or she is responsible for signing the container/vehicle packing certificate.

However, in the groupage situation where the consignor passes the goods to another organisation for carriage, then the latter is responsible for the whole process of securing, ensuring correct segregation, marking and placarding for sea transport, and closing the container prior to transport to the ship. In this case, it is the secondary organisation, rather than the original consignor, who should sign the container/vehicle packing certificate.

The organisation that signs the container/vehicle packing certificate is taking on responsibility for the correct stowage, etc of both its own and any other goods subsequently loaded in the container/vehicle prior to transport to the ship. The simple rule of thumb is that the person who signs the certificate should be the person who finally secures the doors before the container/vehicle goes to sea.

Dangerous goods information

The UN and the modes all specify the information to be provided, and they all have differences in requirements.

UN Recommendations

The basic items of information to be entered in the transport document for each of the dangerous goods offered for transport by any mode, are as follows;

  • The UN number, preceded by the letters “UN”.

  • The proper shipping name, followed by the technical name in brackets where required, eg by special provisions 61, 274 and 318. Conventionally the proper shipping name is written in upper case lettering, as shown in the examples provided in ADR and the IMDG Code, and in their dangerous goods lists. However, it is made clear in ADR (and also in the example in paragraph of the IMDG Code), that the use of either upper or lower case is acceptable.

  • The hazard class(es) or division, both the primary and any subsidiary hazard class; with subsidiary hazards being given in parentheses.

  • The packing group, where relevant.

The information shown above must always be given in the order listed, with no other information interspersed. As already mentioned, the transport document for road must be prepared in an official language of the country of origin (and in French, English or German), which may not be the language of the countries of transit, so it is important that the order in which the information is provided is adhered to.

There are additional information requirements for certain types of dangerous goods, as follows.

  • Molten/elevated temperature substances.

  • Empty uncleaned packagings.

  • Wastes.

  • Limited quantities.

  • Salvage packagings.

  • Substances stabilised by temperature control, specifically including temperature controlled self-reactive substances and organic peroxides.

  • Infectious substances.

  • Radioactive material (Class 7).

  • Dangerous goods of Class 1.

  • Carriage of solids in bulk containers subject to competent authority approval.

  • Fumigated units (sub-chapter 5.5).

  • Use of coolants and conditioners (sub-chapter 5.5).

Additional requirements are also given in special provisions assigned in the dangerous goods lists to particular UN numbers, and can be found in Chapter 3.3 of the regulations.

Information required for the specific consignment is as follows.

  • The number and type of packages (eg boxes, drums — the inner packagings within the outer packaging of a combination packaging do not have to be indicated, although under terms and conditions of the carriers or other parties this may be required).

  • The total quantity of dangerous goods covered by the description of each item of dangerous goods bearing a different proper shipping name, UN number or packing groups. As will be seen later, this is not required for empty uncleaned packagings.

  • Name and address of the consignor and consignee.

  • Date of preparation of the document, or the date on which it was provided to the carrier.

The information provided must be easily identified, legible and durable. If both dangerous and non-dangerous goods are listed in one document, the dangerous goods should be listed first or otherwise emphasised in a suitable manner.

Dangerous goods information — ADR

In addition to the basic information required by the UN Recommendations, ADR has further requirements, as follows.

  • The tunnel restriction code. It is noted that this information need not be provided, where it is known in advance that the consignment will not pass through any tunnels with restrictions for the carriage of dangerous goods.

  • An ENVIRONMENTALLY HAZARDOUS substances statement where applicable.

  • The total quantity of dangerous goods of each transport category where the low load exemption of ADR is applied. And since 2019 the need to show the small load exemption calculation is a requirement.

  • For tank carriage of dangerous goods subject to special provision 640, an additional statement is required, eg for UN 1202 GAS OIL or DIESEL FUEL or HEATING OIL, LIGHT.

  • Empty means of containment other than packagings, eg empty, uncleaned tank vehicles.

  • The carriage of certain means of containment past the test expiry date.

  • A statement concerning ADR in the case of some multi-modal journeys (see later).

  • Multi-compartment tank vehicles or transport units with more than one tank, carrying fuels marked in accordance with the provisions of ADR

  • The composition of gas mixtures, when carried in tanks.

  • Self-reactive substances and organic peroxides carried under approval.

UK domestic carriage by road

Where agreed by the competent authority of the countries concerned, ADR (h) allows the name and address of the consignee(s) to be replaced by the words “Delivery Sale”, when dangerous goods are to be delivered to multiple consignees who cannot be identified at the start of the carriage operation. This applies to journeys carried out entirely within the UK and is a useful relaxation for “milk round” operations such as deliveries of bottled gas to domestic properties.

Another relaxation to ADR found in Derogation 2 of the UK Carriage of Dangerous Goods: Approved Derogations and Transitional Provisions exempts consignments of classes 2 to 6 and 8 and 9, carried under the low load exemption of ADR, from the requirement to carry the transport document on the transport unit; however, the document must still be prepared and retained for three months.

Dangerous goods information — IMDG Code

As for ADR, there are some mode-specific provisions for the transport document found in Chapter 5.4 of the IMDG Code. The basic information is as prescribed by the UN recommendations. However, the following points should be noted.

  • Unlike ADR, the words “Class” or “Division” may precede the hazard class number.


  • For dangerous goods classified as marine pollutants, generic or not otherwise specified (N.O.S) proper shipping names must be supplemented with the name of the marine pollutant.

  • The closed cup flashpoint must be given where this is 60°C or less.

  • Aerosols of capacity greater than 1000ml must be declared.

  • Where viscous substances with a flashpoint falling between 23°C and 60°C are carried under the exemption provided in IMDG code, this must be declared (see later).

  • Special provisions for segregation must also be shown in the transport document for sea, eg:

    • where dangerous goods classified under “not otherwise specified” (N.O.S) entries not included in the segregation groups found in IMDG Code have been assessed as belonging to one of these groups, this must be declared

    • carriage under IMDG Code where substances of different classes are not segregated as there is scientific evidence to show that they do not react dangerously when in contact with one another

    • carriage under IMDG Code where corrosive materials of packing groups II or III that would normally require to be segregated from each other are carried in the same cargo transport unit under the conditions defined in

Multi-modal journeys (road and sea)

  • Where a consignment is subject to a multi-modal journey, and while meeting the requirements of the IMDG Code or ICAO Technical Instructions, does not entirely meet the provisions of ADR, a statement to this effect must be given (ADR

  • To avoid the confusion which had arisen in the past, the current editions of ADR and the IMDG Code now specify that the combined phrase: MARINE POLLUTANT /ENVIRONMENTALLY HAZARDOUS may be used in lieu of ENVIRONMENTALLY HAZARDOUS for ADR and MARINE POLLUTANT for the IMDG Code.

  • A matter of debate has been the location of the tunnel code in the dangerous goods description for a journey by road and sea. ADR makes it clear that the UN number, proper shipping name, class(es), packing group and tunnel code must be shown in this order with no information interspersed. Similarly, IMDG Code specifies the order required as: the UN number, proper shipping name, Class(es) and packing group, again with no information interspersed, and with any additional information being placed after this dangerous goods description. It is therefore suggested that for this type of journey, the additional information required by the IMDG Code such as the flashpoint is placed after the ADR dangerous goods description, following the tunnel code.

UN Recommendations/ADR/IMDG Code — Differences in Information Requirements

UN Recommendations



Declaration of the marine pollutant in the proper shipping name




Use of the word “Class” or “Division” before the hazard class or division numbers

Yes — optional


(as ADR in general uses Label Numbers, not Class numbers)

Yes — optional

Use of “PG” before the packing group number, eg PG II

Yes — optional

Yes — optional

Either the letters “PG” or the initials corresponding to the words packing group in the relevant language(s)

Yes — optional



Optionally — The combined MARINE POLLUTANT/ ENVIRONMENTALLY HAZARDOUS statement may be used





Optional — the combined MARINE POLLUTANT/ ENVIRONMENTALLY HAZARDOUS statement may be used

The closed cup flashpoint where this is 60°C or less




The statement “limited quantity” or “LTD QTY”



(No transport document is required for ADR)


Declaration of aerosols > 1000ml




Carriage of viscous substances under IMDG Code




IMDG Code segregation requirements: segregation group;;




If applicable

N/A = not applicable


The requirement for additional information to be given in the dangerous goods description for certain types of dangerous goods has already been mentioned briefly; perhaps of particular general interest are those for wastes and empty uncleaned means of containment.

  • Unless it is already included in the proper shipping name, the word “waste” must precede the proper shipping name. It should be noted that this order of information was introduced from 1 January 2011 on implementation of the revised ADR and IMDG Code, prior to which the word “waste” preceded the UN number.

  • For carriage by road, where the composition of the waste is not completely known, and classification has been based on best available knowledge in accordance with the provisions of ADR, this must be stated on the transport document: WASTE IN ACCORDANCE WITH In this case, the technical name required by special provision 274 does not have to be given.

  • The hazardous waste consignment notes used in England and Wales provide space for the information required for the carriage of dangerous goods. However, it is noted that the tunnel code is not specifically listed in the “description for carriage” and will have to be added either to this section, or, as given in the example provided by the Environment Agency, to the section on “special handling requirements”. The consignment notes used in Northern Ireland and Scotland do not include such a section, and so this information must be given in separate accompanying documentation.

Empty, uncleaned means of containment

It is seen from section of both ADR and the IMDG Code that, unless empty, packagings that have contained dangerous goods are adequately cleaned or measures taken to nullify the hazard. However, for road transport, advantage may be taken of the ADR low load exemption, which permits an unlimited number of empty, uncleaned packagings (other than those that had contained dangerous goods of transport category 0) to be carried under the provisions of, although this exemption is difficult to apply to compressed and liquefied gases as it is difficult to determine the residual contents.

The general requirements for the transport document for the carriage of empty uncleaned packagings by road and sea are as follows.

  • The words EMPTY, UNCLEANED, or RESIDUE, LAST CONTAINED, are given before or after the dangerous goods description.

  • The total quantity of dangerous goods is not required.

However, ADR provides for a simplified description to be used for dangerous goods (other than those of Class 7), where a more accurate description of the packaging is followed by the dangerous goods Class(es), for instance EMPTY IBC, 6.1 (3). This can make the transport document much easier to compile, eg when dispatching packagings that had contained various different flammable solvents.

Another useful relaxation provided by ADR ( is the amendment of the transport document prepared for the full consignment, for use with uncleaned means of containment, ie both packagings and tanks, by striking out the quantity of the full load and replacing it by the words EMPTY, UNCLEANED RETURN.

When it comes to carriage in tanks, advice given in the HSE Carriage of Dangerous Goods Manual is that ADR does not make a special case for part loads and that where multi-drops are made using tanks, the starting document may be used until the tank is nominally empty, at which point the driver may then bring out a pre-prepared “empty document”, which does not have to be dated.

Non-dangerous goods and viscous substances

  • Where substances mentioned in the dangerous goods list are not subject to the transport regulations, eg where dilution takes the material out of the scope for classification, it may be useful to give a statement in the transport document to this effect, eg “Not goods of Class…” (see ADR

  • Where the relaxation found in IMDG Code is applied to viscous substances with a flashpoint between 23°C and 60°C, this must be indicated by the phrase: “Transport in accordance with of the IMDG Code”.

Limited quantities and excepted quantities

A transport document is not required for the carriage of dangerous goods in limited quantities by road, but the consignor must inform the carrier of the total gross mass prior to carriage. As mentioned already, a transport document is required by the IMDG code and the words “limited quantity” or “LTD QTY” must be included.

Where dangerous goods in excepted quantities are consigned by road with accompanying documentation, the number of packages must be given, accompanied by the statement “Dangerous Goods in Excepted Quantities”. For transport by sea, this information is required in addition to the dangerous goods description, in a transport document.


  • While the requirements for transport documents for road (ADR) and sea (IMDG) transport are very similar it should now hopefully be clear that there are a number of differences.

  • Before creating and sending dangerous goods, staff should be trained and understand these differences.

  • If there is any doubt the advice of a Dangerous Goods Safety Advisor (DGSA) should be sought.