Requirements for the Packaging and Transport of Pathology Specimens and Associated Materials 3rd Edition

Appendix J - Transporting any substances by surface transport (road, rail, ferry) (Informative)

Page last updated: 22 October 2012

The principle of safe transport by road and rail is the same as for air: the packaged material should not have any possibility of escaping from the package under normal conditions of transport.

For surface transport where there is no possibility of the package being transported by air, substances categorised as Infectious Substances, Category A, should be packed to IATA Packing Instruction 650 or Packing Instruction 602.

For substances categorised as Biological Substances, Category B or Category C (non-infectious) and where there is no possibility of the package being transported by air, triple packaging (see Figure A4.2) should be used.


Packaging for all substances should consist of three components (triple packed; see Figure A4.2) and must be packaged as follows:
  1. The primary receptacle(s) should be leakproof
  2. The primary receptacle(s) should be placed into leakproof secondary packaging with sufficient absorbent material to absorb any likely spill. Multiple fragile primary receptacles must be packed with suitable cushioning material in such a way that any release of liquid substance will not compromise the integrity of the cushioning material
  3. The secondary packaging/s should be placed into an outer packaging of adequate strength for its capacity, mass and intended use and with a secure closure to prevent loss of contents.

See Table A4.1 for examples of suitable containers and packaging.

Triple packaging is recommended for the surface transport of all specimens/substances. For Exempt/Category C specimens, the minimum requirement may be relaxed to double packaging, but then only after a formal documented risk assessment.

Table A4.1 Examples of containers and packaging for surface transport of specimens
Absorbent materialCotton wool, shredded newspaper
Vernagel (not for formalin)
Combine dressing (for formalin)
Cushioning materialCotton wool, shredded paper
Outer packagingCardboard box, supported polystyrene box, dispatch satchel, plastic box
Primary receptacleBlood tube
Urine container
Histology specimen container
Leakproof secondary packaging with sufficient absorbent material to contain a spillClean bottle with screw lid
Biohazard bag
Snap-lock plastic bag (see explanatory note below)
Heat-sealed plastic bag

Note: A common practice in many pathology laboratories is to place each individual patient’s samples into separate sealable individual plastic bags (one patient per plastic bag). It is important to note that where these separate plastic bags are placed directly inside an outer insulated packaging container, this does not meet the requirements of triple packaging, as there is no absorbent material between the primary receptacle and the outer packaging. To meet the requirements of secondary packaging, the individual patient plastic bags would need to be placed inside a larger bag or container with an appropriate amount of absorbent material.

To fulfil the requirements of triple packaging, note that the common packaging arrangement shown in Figure A4.1 needs to be modified, so that the primary receptacles are placed inside an additional container (which could be as simple as a larger plastic bag with a zip-lock, or a heat sealed plastic bag) containing absorbent material sufficient to absorb any likely spill, before being placed in the outer packaging container.

Marking and labelling

Packages for surface transport must be marked on the outer packaging with:
  1. the sender’s name and address
  2. the receiver’s name and address
  3. an emergency contact name and phone number.


Documentation, such as identifying paperwork, should be packed separately from the primary receptacle(s).


People working with dry ice or liquid nitrogen are exposed to a number of potential hazards (including cold contact burn to the skin and, especially, the eyes) if handled inappropriately.

Dry ice

When used, dry ice must be placed outside the secondary packagings and interior supports provided to keep the secondary packagings in the original position after the dry ice has dissipated.

The packaging must permit release of carbon dioxide gas to prevent build-up of pressure that could rupture the packaging. The package must be marked ‘dry ice’.

Liquid nitrogen

The dewar flask is the most common container used with liquid nitrogen for laboratory transport of specimens. There are commercially available dry shippers for the transport of specimens in liquid nitrogen. The manufacturer’s instructions must be adhered to when liquid nitrogen containers are used.

Wet ice

When wet ice is used, the outer packaging should be leakproof and interior supports should be provided to keep the secondary packagings in the original position after the ice has melted.

Stowage during transport

The package being transported should be securely placed and restrained within the vehicle. Where practical, this should be in a separate luggage compartment or boot.