Transporting specimens

By: February 20th, 2009 Email This Post Print This Post

It’s very common for practices to ship blood samples and specimens to full service laboratories for off-site testing. In many cases a satellite practice will want to utilize the full service lab across town, which sounds easy enough, but definitely includes some safe shipping considerations.

Safe ground transportation of specimens to and from laboratories is governed by regulation issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The DOT divides it’s regulations into nine classes, but labs are primarily concerned with Class 6.2 – Infectious Substances and Class 9 – Miscellaneous (which includes dry ice, often used for preservation).

Labs typically purchase packaging materials such as sealable plastic bags and boxes for transporting blood specimens. These labs rely on the fact that the manufacturer has met requirements for these materials; their main duty is to use the correct packaging for the materials being shipped, and to label packages properly.

When lab specimens are transported across a public street or highway they are covered by the DOT requirements. This means they must be boxed and labeled appropriately for a biological specimen (unless it meets the definition of infectious). Coolers with the biohazard label on them that are secured in the car (usually on the floor of the back seat) will meet those requirements.

Other considerations for ground shipment of biological substances:

  • Use triple packaging consisting of a leak-proof primary receptacle (e.g. a blood tube), a leak-proof secondary package (e.g. sealable plastic bag), and an outer package (e.g. cardboard box or cooler if you are transporting it yourself)
  • Place absorbent materials between the primary receptacle and the secondary packaging and be sure to make sure there is no contact between primary receptacles if they are placed in the same sealable plastic bagg
  • Secure the secondary packaging with cushioning material (e.g. bubble wrap)
  • When you are done, the package should be able to withstand a drop from about four feet

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Hello I have a some what complicated question for you that I am hopefull that you will have an answer for.

Is there any type of HIPA laws or OSHA laws that prohibits an employee of a lab to take home patient serum or cbc specimens to be placed in their home over nite and placed in the family fridge in only a red plastic bag with the stickers clearly marking each seperate vial with patients name and dob so that it can be transported the next day for analysis?

By David LaHoda on December 9th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Absolutely, there are. Plus you also violate some basic infection control and patient safety concepts: storing specimens in an unmonitored refrigerator and storing specimens with food for starters.

My questions are:
1. How could any employer ask this of employees?
2. Why would an employee ever agree to this?

I can’t imagine this is routine or standard operating procedures in healthcare facilities. If so, let us know by adding a comment.

Where can I find specific information concerning the OSHA regulations for transporting labs from one facility to another. I know OSHA will fine the transport person but I need proof. Yes, the employer is forcing this on her employees. They fear losing their job so they do what they are told. Transport blood in their own vehicles on their own time off the clock, no pay, no gas money, no thank you. They also have to clock out and continue to work.

By David LaHoda on November 11th, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Your concern overlaps regulators, so the issue is not as clear cut as it would seem.

OSHA’s concern is for the safety of the the employee. As long as the the employee transporting the specimen is trained in accordance with the Bloodborne Pathogens standard, OSHA doesn’t care about personal vehicle use, off the clock time, or reimbursement expenses.

Your state’s hazardous material or health departments may have regulations concerning the license and signage requirements for transporting biohazardous material, but I doubt it. As long as the specimens are packaged and labeled accordingly, and the transporting employee receive initial and annual training there is not much in the way of non-compliance.

It’s essentially an employment and duties issue between the employer and employees.

If OSHA requires that any person who transports patient specimens is trained in accordance with the Bloodborne Pathogens standard, then I assume they would not approve of the patient carrying the specimen from the doctor’s office to the Laboratory…is that correct?

The doctor’s office is at the same address as the laboratory, but may be in a different building. Patients would take steps or an elevator to the laboratory. The specimen is placed in a biohazard baggie.

By David LaHoda on January 13th, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Your assumption is incorrect. OSHA does not regulate patient safety matters. Whether patients transport their own specimens may have safety and quality control considerations, but it is not OSHA an matter.

Our home care nurses are inquiring as to what precautions should be taken when transporting specimens from their car into the facility and when walking specimens through the facility. Is a specimen biohazard bag with absorbent paper sufficient, or should they be required to transport these in a tertiary container?

We run a courier business and have recently contracted with the local hospital system to transport specimens to their lab from their various facilities. I am looking for training materials for our drivers to assist them in understanding what is required of them. Can you point me in the right direction?

By David LaHoda on November 22nd, 2011 at 5:23 pm

The Safety Lady website is a good resource for lab courier safety and training. In fact Terry Jo Gile, who is the Safety Lady, has a video, “Effective Education for Medical Courier Excellence.” You can order it by clicking here.

By Terry Keller on August 22nd, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Hello Terry, we are a small clinic and have a courier that transports blood samples to a local lab once or twice a day. The specimens are in sealed vials, in a sealed plastic bag then placed in a cooler with a biohazard label on it. Do we need special training or a vehicle placard. He gets Annual bloodborne pathogen training. he is concerned.
Best regards, Terry Keller

We have a laboratory with preserved specimens (such as cats/rats, etc.) for dissection purposes in a college. We sometimes need to transport these specimens from one building where they are stored, to another building where the classroom is. We do not have to take them out on a road – only onto a cart, which gets wheeled across a walkway and into a classroom across a breezeway. Is this any type of OSHA violation?

Hello Knot, managing editor Will Kilburn here. I ran your question by Steve MacArthur, consultant for The Greeley Company, a division of HCPro, and author of Mac’s Safety Space; he says it’s probably not an OSHA violation, but: “The transportation of stuff falls more under DOT jurisdiction, though if they’re staying on campus, they should be OK as long as the specimens are appropriately contained (I would go for the leakproof, covered container route).”

Let me know if this answers your question, Will

I have a question maybe you could help me with. My husband is being required to transport lab specimens in his car from a surgi center to the lab and he is a non cllinical employee. He has expresses a concern about the safety of the specimen and his health safety in the transportation of the specimen his job tells him he needs to be a team player and needs to transport the item.
Are they violating any regulations?

By Dan Scungio on April 16th, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Whether or not regulations are being violated depends on how things are being done. If someone is properly trained in ALL aspects of specimen transport and is supplied with proper materials (transport containers, spill kits, etc.), it is fine for them to use a personal vehicle as a courier. You do not need to be a clinical person to transport specimens, but you do need adequate training.

I work for a medium-sized clinic that has a small satellite office 2 miles away where lymphedema massages are done on breast cancer patients. Is it ok for an employee to transport the bloody bandages in a red bag and leakproof container from this satellite office to the main office to be picked up by our medical waste treatment facility?

By Dan Scungio on May 8th, 2013 at 10:47 am

From the information I have, it is not acceptable to transport that regulated medical waste without proper licensing. The DOT regulates who can transport certain materials, and a licensed vendor should be removing RMW from the office site.

By A. Norton on May 10th, 2013 at 10:00 am

Are there any special regulation or certification requirements for an individual or entity in transporting specimens to a lab to include urine, and if so where can I find those regulation, certification or training requirments.

By Dan Scungio on May 10th, 2013 at 10:58 am

The requirements for employees transporting specimens include specific training. The Safety Lady has a courier training DVD “Effective Education for Medical Courier Excellence” which can be ordered via her website ( You state laboratory may provide the necessary DOT-required packaging training for those who package and ship samples as well.

By Helenjerry on July 5th, 2013 at 12:19 am

A 3 – 5 day notification is needed prior to pick up of the vehicle. If vehicle is not operative a special Ship car to St. Thomas winch service is provided. Transit time via car carrier is usually between 10-12 days subject to weather conditions.

Our Administration gave us popcorn in biohazard specimen bags for Nurses Day. Is it safe to eat?

By Dan Scungio on May 8th, 2014 at 5:20 pm

It may be safe to eat, the bags may never have been used, BUT you should not eat the popcorn! Better yet, they should not pack it nor any other food in biohazard bags. That is not a good practice.

I work for a dermatologist office and we have several offices (ours and other doctors)that send us they’re biopsy specimens. We do have a courier but we also use Fed Ex at times.
I have the following questions;
1. What training is need for our courier?
2. What labeling and packaging is needed for those specimens?
3. Can we ship the specimens through Fedex?

We are in California

By Dan Scungio on October 15th, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Couriers should have basic safety training for carrying specimens. Specimens should be completely labeled with patient info, and transport containers need to be hard-sided and labeled with a biohazard symbol. You can ship specimens via FedEx, but check with their website for info on packaging and labeling.

The employees are having problems because they were told to only wear gloves to put the specimens in biohazard bag then carry the specimen to the lab without gloves because they don’t them to contaminate the hallway with they gloves on. How do you protect yourself when carrying specimen in a rack or bag without gloves.

couriers and phlebotomist that carry medical records or patient information should have bag or box to properly lock them up? my concern is hand carrying them within a vehichle loose and what if an accident occurred and then they are loose and lost. is this unlawful?

By Marco Navarrete on April 14th, 2015 at 11:37 am

Our couriers are having problems because they were told to only wear gloves to carry the samples already in a biohazard bag when delivering to our lab. The specimen samplea are in a biohazard bag. Are they required to wear gloves when delivering to the lab? Is it acceptable to carry the bags without wearing gloves?

By Cindy McCutchen on April 15th, 2015 at 10:53 am

Is it lawful for my employer to require me to transport boxes of RMW in a courier car. Also we use coolers for picking up lab specimens but have no biohazard sticker on them and no packing material other than the plastic bags they are placed in. Is this compliant with DOT Regulations for transporting RMW & blood specimens? We are in Texas.

By Michael Randazzo on June 26th, 2015 at 9:51 am

an offsite research lab about 1/2 mile from a hospital has 2 people get on the employee bus shuttle that goes from parking lots to the hospital wit a large 4 foot cooler. The cooler has a biohazard and specimen label on it. The passengers feel uneasy about the container and fear if the bus had to stop short or there was an accident, that people on the bus could be exposed. Is this legal?

I work for a campus police department. Our on campus infirmary wants to use our police and security officers to transport students’ lab samples to the laboratory at our local hospital. Our officers have no training, besides basic blood borne pathogen training required of all school employees. We do not feel comfortable with this. What, if any, guidelines and regulations could help us in not taking on this responsibility?

By Marlena Craig on January 4th, 2016 at 12:44 am

I am a security officer with Allied Barton at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. On our campus the Drug Rehabilitation floor wants to use our security officer’s to transport lab samples to the lab on the other side of the campus. Our officers have no training, besides basic blood borne pathogen training required of all hospital employees. A lot of our officer’s do not feel comfortable with this. What, if any, guidelines and regulations could help us in not taking on this responsibility?

I work for medical supply company and we are considering launching a product to help track specimens location and temperature during transport. Can you help me understand how often specimens are lost or damaged during transport and the average cost of a specimen?

Is it ok to allow a patient to take their lab vials with them from one medical facility to another to be ran for diagnostics? Also. Is it legal to hand the ambulance team the specimens for transport from one facility to another for diagnostics? I want no part of doing something that can put my licsense at risk.

I have been a medical courier for 2 1/2 years using my own vehicles and rental vehicles. I drive through 3 states on one route alone. I have never been given any sort of safety training, instructions on spills, etc… After reading some of the questions on here I am now aware I should have been issued or supplied a spill kit. I have never had one in my vehicles. Am I in or the company that employs me in violation of any laws?

By Barbara Teal on March 18th, 2016 at 4:37 am

I am a volunteer at a local hospital. They have recently decided to assign us to check hourly in one part of the hospital to see if anyone has left specimens for the lab. If so, we are to then take these specimens downstairs to the lab. They say the specimens will be sealed by the patient, and will be in a plastic pail, and gloves will be provided if you feel the need to wear them. Is there any danger in doing this? I am not sure I feel safe doing this.

By Michelle U on March 19th, 2016 at 4:02 pm

My company is forcing me to transport blood and urine specimens to another office using my own vehicle, with no safety training, and specimens in a plastic bag only.
Can you please tell me the rules and regualtions for this.
I do not want to do this task, but I feel that I have no choice.


My wife is pregnant and we had chorionic villus sampling performed. The hospital has not yet shipped out the sample to the outside lab. I am concerned that the sample will get delayed in processing or lost. Am I allowed to take the sample myself from the hospital to the lab by car? We are anxiously awaiting results and this is causing a great deal of distress. Thanks.

By Michael P on July 6th, 2016 at 10:12 pm

I am a courier for a hospital. I transport lab specimens, urine, blood stool, sterile and non sterile instruments and pharmaceuticals. The specimens are in tubes or plastic containers, and placed in aplastic bag and I keep them in a box while transporting them. I was recently asked to start carrying food to various facilities from the cafeteria. Pizza, bottled water, orange juice and cold and hot meals and birthday cakes. I want to know if this is legal and safe and what kind of liability if any I may be facing in case there was a exposure to people eating this food. Thank you.

Our lab is switching courier companies and the new company wants to hire the current couriers, but we would have to use our own vehicles. Do personal cars have to be licensed to carry biohazards?

I’m a new courier in the DFW area. What is the average charge to transport refrigerated class B Specimens?


Viv S.: if you are an independent contractor it is your responsibility to get the proper license (which is not hard at all)and any commerce placarding. Typically getting a license to transport 6.2 substances is no different from getting a license to transport anything else (besides household items like movers). If you are an employee, no; the business has to have a license and you may need some sort of placard on the vehicle with your DOT/STATE commerce number.

Chris: prices vary so much for this kind of work that it isn’t worth guessing; geography, time of day, market rates, and competition all play a part. Typically your cost are not associated with the package itself so pricing is based on mileage or hours of labor. Literally anywhere form $1/mile to $6/mile isn’t uncommon.

Michael P: designate part of your car as a “work area” (typically the back seat, hatch, or trunk) and keep food out of that area and you should be fine. Primary, secondary, and tertiary containers make the substance much less likely (if not improbable) from contaminating anything in the vehicle.

By MYUNG ROSATI on October 1st, 2016 at 6:52 pm

Savvy blog post – I learned a lot from the insight , Does anyone know where my assistant could find a fillable URL – IRS W-2 copy to edit ?

I have a question maybe you can help me. When transporting frozen blood specimens from one Lab to other lab and the safe ground rules of transporting of the specimens was not followed nor the correct packaging was used nor labeled. who would be responsable for looking into ?

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Hi, We are going to start transporting blood specimen from client offices to our laboratory. We have complete courier bags validation and purchased thermometers to alarm couriers if the temperature in their bag goes out of range. Do couriers need to record temperature when transporting blood specimen? How often does it need to be recorded?

I work for a large corporation. We are working on after hour protocols for lab testing and specimen transports. Example of potential incident in question- If an employee gets a needle stick in the urgent care clinic, but lab in the building is closed- Can the employee transport their own sample and a sample of the patient of whom the needle stick was from? We are wanting to stay in compliance with any and all laws and regulations. Thank you


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