How Retailers Can Cope with New Regulations On Shipping Lithium Batteries

Mike Pagel, Senior Consultant • Labelmaster

Devices powered by lithium batteries grow more popular every year, which means industries of all of kinds are shipping such products to a wide range of locations. But retailers face the greatest frequency and variety of shipping challenges, particularly if planning to transport the batteries and products by air. The latest regulations don’t make it any easier.

For illustration, just this past February, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations agency that regulates the transport of dangerous good aboard aircraft, enacted a ban on transporting standalone lithium ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft. The ban became effective April 1, 2016.

In addition, the ICAO has mandated that, also effective April 1, 2016, standalone lithium ion batteries can only be shipped by air at a state of charge not exceeding 30 percent of the battery’s rated capacity.

These are just of a number of recent rules and restrictions on battery shipments established by regulatory agencies and air cargo carriers in their quest to protect the public. Compliance with such mandates is not easy. For example, downstream distributors often don’t have the means to test the state of charge of batteries they ship. Until now, there’s never been such a limit.

The reality is air shipping will simply become less viable. You just can’t train thousands of employees to know the infinite permutations of batteries, configurations, and labels “X, Y and Z.” Our retailer clients are telling us they will not ship batteries or battery-containing products that are fully regulated by air, it’s just too complex.

Stick to the Ground Game
Retailers should address this challenge foremost by streamlining their shipping processes through automation and training. A successful shipping strategy also should:

  • Build in more lead time. If you are shipping one package to one customer, you’ll still be okay shipping by air. But if you are shipping dozens of packages a day to the same customer or retail partner, ground probably makes more sense. In such cases, retailers should be prepared to plan inventory months ahead of time as they push shipments to ground or ocean transport.
  • Minimize risks of reverse logistics and customer returns. Here retailers should stick to the ground game. You don’t know what happened to that battery or that device from the time it got to the customer to the time he or she returns it. If it is damaged, then it’s even a greater risk. And, there’s no need to receive it overnight, so there’s no reason to have an untrained person package a battery for air shipment. It just doesn’t pay.

Protect Against Next Holiday Gift Fiasco
Hoverboards were the big gift this past holiday season, beloved by teens, tweens and orthopedic surgeons alike. But then came the online videos with the battery-powered hoverboards exploding into flames. Retailers quickly found themselves grappling with the challenge of shipping thousands of returns under a bewildering tangle of regulations and changing carrier restrictions. How can retailers avoid these headaches when the next holiday blockbuster battery-powered device arrives?

It all starts with the quality of the product itself. When an item gets popular, manufacturers will try to make it at the lowest cost. Some of these hoverboards used poor-quality batteries that did not meet the required testing criteria. The best advice is to buy from reputable manufacturers and ask for the test reports. It also is beneficial to obtain input from a dangerous goods transport advisor when making such purchasing decisions.

The evidence is clear: In just one year, the landscape for shipping lithium batteries by air has grown exponentially more complex. However, as outlined here, retailers do have options to overcome the obstacles and continue to provide top-notch service to their customers.

For additional information on lithium battery regulations, visit the Labelmaster lithium battery shipping services page at

Mike Pagel is a Senior Consultant for Labelmaster, which specializes in helping companies – big and small – comply with the complex and ever-changing regulations governing dangerous goods/hazardous materials. Pagel has extensive experience conducting on-site compliance assessments, providing in-person dangerous good training and helping retail, industrial and commercial clients with dangerous goods compliance. Prior to joining Labelmaster, Pagel worked for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s Information Center at the Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, D.C.  Pagel may be reached at 773-478-0900 or via email at