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

3. General packaging requirements based on mode of transport

Page last updated: 22 October 2012

(Refer to Standard 6A in Requirements for Medical Pathology Services)

3.1 Packaging

For transport of all pathology specimens and associated materials by air or surface transport methods, the packaging must consist of three components:
  1. primary receptacle
  2. secondary packaging
  3. outer packaging.

This is also known as triple packaging.

3.2 Labelling and marking

The IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations describe the markings and, if required, the labels required on packages for air transport (see Figure 3.1).

The Australian Standard Packaging for surface transport of biological material that may cause disease in humans, animals and plants describes the minimum marking required on packages for surface transport.

If dry ice or nitrogen refrigerants are used during transport, their presence must be indicated.

3.3 Documentation

Documentation required by a transporter or operator should be accessible without opening the package.

Packages for or from overseas destinations must be accompanied by the necessary documentation, including customs and/or quarantine permits. A check of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service website may be necessary to review the latest relevant information.

3.4 Choosing the mode of transport

The packaging required for pathology specimens depends on the mode of transport that is to be used, and therefore can vary.

There are many questions to consider when choosing the mode of transport for pathology specimens, including:
  • Should the specimens be kept cold or frozen?
  • Are the specimens being sent within Australia and to whom?
  • Collection centre to laboratory?
  • Doctor’s surgery to laboratory?
  • Laboratory to laboratory?
  • Within hospital (i.e. from ward to laboratory)?
  • Externally from one part of a hospital campus to another?
  • Are the samples being sent overseas?
  • What packaging is required to send these samples safely?
  • What paperwork or documentation is needed?
  • Are there additional hazards such as chemicals (flammable, acid or other substance), dry ice, liquid nitrogen, etc.?

The following matrix (Table 3.1) may assist the user to determine the most suitable method for packaging a specimen according to the mode of transport that is necessary. Table 3.2 summarises air transport requirements.

Table 3.1 Matrix for determining mode of general packaging requirements for biological material by various modes of transport

Mode of transportHazard class of specimen
Category A
(UN 2814) (UN 2900)
Hazard class of specimen
Category B
(UN 3373)
Hazard class of specimen
Exempt/Category C
Commercial air (cargo only)Appendix 5Appendix 6Appendix 7
Commercial air (passenger and cargo)Appendix 5Appendix 6Appendix 7
Commercial road courierAppendix 4Appendix 4Appendix 4
Foot through public spaceAppendix 3Appendix 3Appendix 3
General carrier (truck)Not recommendedAppendix 4Appendix 4
In-house road courierAppendix 4Appendix 4Appendix 4
Multiple As for the most stringent modeAs for the most stringent modeAs for the most stringent mode
Passenger air, hand luggage or checked baggageNot permittedNot permittedAppendix 7
Pneumatic tubeNSAppendix 3Appendix 3
Post (domestic only)Not permittedAppendix 8Appendix 9
Post (international)Not permittedNot permittedAppendix 9
Private vehicleAppendix 4Appendix 4Appendix 4
Public transport (e.g. bus)Not recommendedAppendix 4Appendix 4
RailAppendix 4Appendix 4Appendix 4
Ship/ferryAppendix 4Appendix 4Appendix 4
TaxiNot recommendedAppendix 4Appendix 4
UnknownNot permittedNot permittedAppendix 7

Note: For any air transport leg where dry ice is used, see also Appendix 10
NS = Not suitable; UN = United Nations

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Table 3.2 Summary of air transport requirements
Shipment type Proper shipping nameUN or ID numberIATA classIATA Packing InstructionPacking groupMax net quantity/pkg for passenger aircraftMax net quantity/pkg for cargo aircraftLabel
Biological Substance, Category BBiological substance, Category BUN 3373 Hazard Class 6.26504 L or 4 kg4 L or 4 kgUN 3373 mark
Cytology liquid-based vials not containing any specimenFlammable liquid, n.o.s., (contains methanol)Hazard Class 3
Dry iceDry ice, or
carbon dioxide, solid
UN 1845Hazard Class 9904Packing group III2.5 kg in aircraft cabin, 200 kg in hold200 kgMiscellaneous (Hazard Class 9)
ExemptExempt human substance or exempt animal substanceNo limitNo limit
Formalin <25%Not restricted
Infectious Substance, Category A, affecting animals onlyInfectious substance, affecting animalsUN 2900Hazard Class 6.260250 mL or 50 g4 L or 4 kgInfectious Substance (Hazard Class 6.2)
Infectious Substance, Category A, affecting humans, or humans and animalsInfectious substance, affecting humansUN 2814Hazard Class 6.2602 50 mL or 50 g4 L or 4 kgInfectious Substance
(Hazard Class 6.2)
Lyophilised (freeze-dried) substancesMust be classified according to contentsPrimary receptacles for lyophilised substances must be either flame-sealed glass ampoules or glass vials with rubber stoppers

Adapted from the Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration (2005)
IATA = International Air Transport Association; ID = identification; n.o.s. = not otherwise specified; UN = United Nations

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