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Should I Haul Hazardous Materials? [How to Get Your HazMat Endorsement]

June 21st, 2023



Wondering if you should haul hazardous materials? Wondering if it’s even worth it? 

As a truck driver, your job is dangerous enough. When you add hazardous cargo to the mix, the stakes are a lot higher. If you don’t know anyone who hauls this type of freight, you may not know what to expect. It can be intimidating to get started. Plus, you may have heard it’s tough to pass the test to get the endorsement.

Becoming hazmat-certified can open up your freight options exponentially. That being said, hauling hazardous materials isn’t for everyone. There are extra regulations placed upon it for a good reason. Because you’re transporting dangerous materials, you must follow the highest safety regulations to keep you and the drivers you encounter on the road safe. 

There are countless hazmat-certified drivers on the Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) fleet with a lot of advice for you about hauling this type of freight. Learn more about the hazardous materials you could haul, how you can get the hazmat endorsement, and how to decide if you’re cut out for hauling hazardous materials. 

Hazardous signs. One says flammable and one says radioactive ||.

What is Considered Hazardous Materials? 

When you’re hauling hazardous materials, you can haul everything from batteries and ammunition to soap (it’s corrosive) or radioactive materials. There are nine classes of hazardous materials. 

  • Class 1: Explosives (Note: To haul explosives, additional training is required)
  • Class 2: Flammable or nonflammable gas (such as oxygen or poisonous gas)
  • Class 3: Gas or flammable liquids 
  • Class 4: Spontaneously combustible materials
  • Class 5: Oxidizers 
  • Class 6: Poison
  • Class 7: Radioactive materials 
  • Class 8: Corrosive materials
  • Class 9: Miscellaneous materials that aren’t already categorized 

As you can imagine, mixing some of these materials can result in negative consequences, so you won’t see some of them hauled together.

How to Get Your Hazmat Endorsement (H Endorsement)

To earn your hazmat endorsement on your CDL (or the H endorsement), you’ll need to go through several steps regulated by the Transport Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). 

First, you need to head to your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or licensing agency and request an application for the Hazmat endorsement. After you fill out the application as accurately and completely as possible, you can schedule an appointment with a TSA-approved fingerprinting location. Here, you’ll not only have your fingerprints taken, but you’ll go through a security threat assessment. 

Once you pass the background check, you’ll need to take and pass a test. There are 30 questions. To pass, you need to get 24 correct (80 percent). 

Refer to the Hazardous Materials section of your CDL manual to prepare for the test. Make sure you study hard and take multiple practice tests because the test is tricky.   Read and reread the material and highlight important sections to retain the information. 

As long as you pay the fee and pass the background check and test, you’ll receive your new CDL with the hazmat endorsement. 

Requirements for the hazmat endorsement do vary slightly from state to state, so check with your local DMV or licensing agency for specific guidelines.

Once you get your H endorsement, most trucking companies will put you through hands-on training. You’ll work with an experienced driver who handles hazmat freight. They’ll teach you everything you need to know to succeed.

Large yellow container filled with radioactive materials.

Is Hauling Hazmat Right For You?

Hauling hazardous materials can be dangerous, sure, but if you’re careful and follow proper procedures, there’s nothing to be scared of. However, that does mean you need to be a rule follower. If something goes wrong or you’re negligent, the consequences can be disastrous. 

One, you could easily hurt yourself or even end your life by handling materials incorrectly. If something happens on the road and you encounter a spill or an accident, you can cause a major explosion that can harm a lot of people and damage a lot of buildings. The debris alone is enough to cause major damage. 

Even something that seems like a minor leak can have huge consequences. For instance, with a leak, hazardous materials can eventually seep into the ground and waterways and poison an entire city’s water — hurting people and damaging valuable ecosystems. 

So, deciding to haul this freight shouldn’t be a spur-of-the-moment decision. It should be well thought-out. You can talk to your driver manager to see if they think you’d be a good fit for hauling this type of freight. They can recommend if you should take the next step or if you should pursue a different path or additional training first.

If you have the following characteristics, hauling hazmat might be a good fit for you: 

You’re Safety-Driven and Detail-Oriented

One wrong move with hazardous freight and you could cause a major leak or fire that does a lot of damage. You can’t make your own rules when you haul hazardous materials.

You should treat each hazmat load like it’s the first load you’ve ever hauled. You must do your pre-trip and post-trip inspections every day. You need to stop regularly to check your loads. You need to follow every regulation to a T. You need to pre-trip and know what roads you can and can’t drive on. 

Doing a thorough pre-trip inspection versus rushing through a pre-trip inspection could very well be the difference between life and death. If you catch tire damage during a pre-trip and get it fixed before you hit the road, that could mean the difference between safely hauling the load versus blowing a tire on the freeway that causes a fire and explosion.

If you don’t have this level of attention to detail, you’re probably not the right person for the job. If you typically rush through your pre-trips and skip post-trips altogether, this might not be the right freight for you to haul. You’ll be putting yourself and others at risk.

There are fewer accidents involving hazmat freight because drivers are so careful when they haul it. 

You’re Patient and Calm

Hauling hazmat freight requires a lot of patience. Everything takes longer when you’re hauling hazardous materials — from getting loaded and unloaded to driving to your destination. 

The freight has to be handled with extra care, so it can take longer to load, unload and secure. You may or may not have to secure the freight yourself. Sometimes the customer does it and you watch or sometimes you’ll need to do it yourself. Obviously, you’ll need to be especially careful when you secure the freight depending on what it is. Some freight you could kick with your foot and nothing will happen (like soap), and you could kick other freight and burn your foot.

If you’re a big worrier or easily stressed, you may not enjoy the extra precautions you need to take when hauling hazardous materials. It can be stressful. For instance, if you get into an accident, you have to stay calm and collected. There are certain people you’ll need to call so they can handle the freight properly and prevent bigger issues.

If you’re impatient and just want to go, go go, this might not be the right type of freight for you to haul. 

You’re a Planner

To successfully haul hazmat loads, you need to be a big trip planner. There are certain roads you can and can’t drive on. For instance, you can’t haul hazmat freight through a major city unless you’re delivering somewhere within city limits. You’ll have to bypass those areas. You’ll need to avoid potential hazards like tunnels as well. 

Often, you’ll need to follow a specific route. Ending up on the wrong roads because you didn’t plan ahead can result in a violation or an accident. 

Map laying onthe table The booklet is opened to the page with the map of the United States.

You’re a Non-Smoker

This might seem like a weird requirement, but if you’re hauling flammable hazardous materials,  you shouldn’t be smoking around the load. You shouldn’t be smoking in the truck or near the truck. 

If you tend to smoke a pack a day, consider hauling a different type of freight.

You Want to Open Up Your Opportunities

When you take the extra steps required to earn extra endorsements and certifications, you stand out to trucking companies. It shows drive and determination and it can place you in a great position at your company. You may be looked upon and trusted to haul loads no one else can. You can also make a lot more money.

You Want to Earn More

While it’s certainly not for everyone, hauling hazmat freight is a great way to open up your freight options and therefore your earning potential. You’ll have access to a lot of loads other drivers can’t haul. 

Diversify Your Skills and Earn Extra Endorsements 

Deciding whether to haul hazardous materials is a significant choice that requires careful consideration. While obtaining a hazmat endorsement can open up new opportunities and increase earning potential, it comes with additional responsibilities and risks. 

Hauling hazardous materials demands strict adherence to safety regulations and attention to detail, as even a minor mistake can have severe consequences. Patience, calmness, and thorough planning are essential qualities for those involved in transporting hazardous freight. 

If you possess these characteristics and are willing to commit to the necessary precautions, hauling hazardous materials may be a suitable path for you. Consult with your driver manager to ensure your readiness for this demanding role. 

You can earn other endorsements as well, such as the doubles and triples endorsement or the tanker endorsement. 

For more tips on how to diversify your freight hauling options, check out “Best Practices for Hauling Freight in a Soft Market: Turning Don’ts to Dos.”