Special Permits

There are two kinds of DOT special permits: permits for manufacturing packages that are different from approved specifications, and permits that let you do things differently than what is found in the published regulations. A special permit is an alternative method of complying with the Hazardous Materials Regulations. It will cover a new process, product or materials that are not specifically referenced in the regulations. You need to apply and obtain authority from DOT to hold a special permit. This is known as “party to” status.

On File at Each Location

If you have a package that has a special permit on it, you must have a current copy of the special permit on file at the location that ships or requalifies the package. You must follow the requirements outlined in the special permit. Some special permits require a copy to be kept in the motor vehicle. If it does, this will be stated in the special permit.

Transporting a Special Permit Package

If you receive a cylinder that is being operated under a special permit then, provided you don’t modify the package (for us, that means you don’t fill it), you can reoffer it for transportation without being a party to the special permit.  Example — if Company XYZ fills a cylinder under a special permit and you order it from Company XYZ you can then take it to your customer. You must have a copy of the special permit on file, have trained and documented all employees that touch the package and then note the special permit on the shipping paper in association with the product description. The key is that you did not fill the cylinder or modify the package when you shipped or transported it.

If you have to offer a special permit container to a common or contract carrier then you must provide them with a current copy of the special permit at or before the time of shipment. There are a few exceptions to this requirement, but almost all the time this requirement will apply.

Again, you must enter the special permit number onto the hazardous material shipping paper in association with the proper shipping name of the product in the special permit cylinder. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but 99 percent or more of the special permits require this.


All employees that handle a special permit package must be trained on the requirements of the special permit, and the training is required every three years. You will need to document this training per 172.704(d). Here is a summary:

  • (d)(1) The hazmat employee’s name;
  • (d)(2) the most recent training completion date of the hazmat employee’s training;
  • (d)(3) a description, copy or the location of the training materials used to meet the requirements;
  • (d)(4) the name and address of the person providing the training; and
  • (d)(5) certification that the hazmat employee has been trained and tested.

“party to” the Special Permit?

If you read item “1. Grantee” on the special permit and see the words “See individual authorization letter,” then you need to have your company authorized by DOT to be a party to the special permit to be able to fill the cylinders used under the special permit.

How do I become a “party to” a Special Permit?

The PHMSA website for special permit applications and renewals can be found at https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/hazmat/special-permits/special-permits-applications.

There is a link “Access Online Applications Portal” to the online procedure at portal.phmsa.dot.gov, but unfortunately, it is difficult to use.

What has worked very well is to use a template that I can provide you and make your own Word document application, then to email it as an attachment to specialpermits@dot.gov, and they will email you back your approval letter.

Your special permit will be the authorization letter you received stapled to the top of the actual special permit that you will print off. You keep the two items together as your permit.

Please note that just because you apply doesn’t mean that the permit will be automatically granted. Your current DOT safety score and performance can keep you from getting party to special permits. You also must have been audited in the past and have a Satisfactory Rating. If you apply for a special permit and have never been audited, then you will generate an audit. They will come visit, so be prepared. This has happened to several of our members in the past year.

Special Permit Renewals

When it comes time to renew your special permit, you can use the same email process as above. I can supply you with a sample special permit renewal letter. You can also use the online PHMSA portal discussed above.

It is extremely important that the renewal takes place at least 60 days or more before the special permit expires. If you renew more than 60 days before expiration and DOT drags their feet, then you get to keep using the special permit. If you renew less than 60 days before the expiration date, and they drag their feet and the special permit expires, then you must cease using the special permit until they send you the approval letter. The first permit is issued for two years and the renewals are issued for four years after that.

Special permits can be very confusing, and applying for and renewing special permits can be confusing, as well. So, if you have any questions, please contact me and I will be glad to walk you through the process. 


GAWDA DOT, Security, OSHA and EPA Consultant Michael Dodd is president of MLD Safety Associates in Poplar Bluff, MO. Members can reach him at 573-718-2887 and at MLDSafety@hotmail.com.

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