What is Shelf-Life?

Well, this one is easy.

A product that possesses a shelf-life is a product with a timer strapped to its chest (metaphorically speaking, of course). Shelf-life refers to the time that a product has before its usefulness runs out.

The term is used on a whole host of products. In fact, most of us are aware of the shelf-life in our everyday lives since it is found in the food and drug industries. Ever pick up a loaf of bread at the supermarket? Then chances are you have seen the expiration date. What about your latest bottle of allergy medicine? Yup, that expires too.

But SkyGeek doesn’t sell food or drugs so why am I posting about it? Well, because chemicals have shelf-lives. And we got a whole bunch of products consisting of chemicals. Fuel and oil, the lifeblood of a plane, has a shelf-life. And if you use fuel with a 0% shelf-life guess what: your plane isn’t going for a happy joyride.

Due to its composition, a product may be susceptible to limited use and its function can be compromised if exposed to certain elements or factors. This includes light, temperature, moisture, and even handling during transportation. Also, if packaged improperly, an item’s shelf-life may diminish.

A higher shelf-life means a more potent and thus effective product. Think about a piece of fruit or meat—the older it is the more it spoils and the less nutritional value it possesses. It is a similar concept with regards to chemicals that are unstable.

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Figure 1 – Diagram of the shelf-life process as it relates to select SkyGeek products. Type I shelf-life items use alpha codes while Type II products use a number system to indicate how much time remains since date of manufacture. (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

According to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), there are generally two types of shelf-life products.

Type I products are “critical end-use items, the failure of which could endanger human life or cause major systems (such as an aircraft) to fail.” This would also include some adhesives and sealing compounds as well. Type II products are “those for less critical applications, and which can be reinserted periodically to determine their continued fitness for use.” Thus, most shelf-life products are Type II. Some examples include paint, adhesive tapes, disinfectants, and yes, chemicals.

Shelf-life is a hard thing to monitor. One of the most commonly asked questions is, “What is the shelf-life [of a product]?” This is a legitimate question and we definitely understand why customers ask it. You have to purchase something but don’t plan on using it right away. However, you don’t want it to expire by the time you do. It’s a preventative measure to ask and also saves you money because additional costs are incurred on disposal of shelf-life items. If you buy something, why wouldn’t you want it to fulfill its purpose?

What many may not realize is that our products are not situated in our office so we cannot simply get up from our desk and get the answer. We contact our warehouse and have personnel check. But the warehouse at our headquarters does not contain our entire inventory. We have other warehouses we use in remote locations as well. This requires contacting personnel at these warehouses which—depending on their schedule—may take additional time to contact and track down the answer.

Unfortunately, shelf-life will always be an issue that requires careful handling; the headaches it causes will never truly expire. Regardless, we try to ensure that the most shelf-life is shipped to our customers in as timely a manner as our resources will allow. And as our internal processes and systems improve the intended effect is to have it so that we can get shelf-life problems resolved with less customer complaints. It’s a work in progress so stay tuned. In the meantime you can checkout SkyGeek’s Shelf-Life Policy Warning.
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For more information about shelf-life, an excellent source is the GSA’s FAQ page.

What is ORM-D?

Last blog post I spoke about hazmat, aka hazardous materials. These are dangerous goods that pose a risk to users as well as areas where they are stored/put-to-use.

But when you think about it, “dangerous goods” is kind of a broad category. Certainly there are gradients of danger.

Well, there is and that is where ORM-D comes in.

Like the NFPA 704 hazard diamond used to denote hazmat products, the ORM-D symbol is a warning label. However, it signifies a much lower level of danger. If you see the ORM-D sign it pertains to mailing or shipping. ORM-D stands for (O)ther (R)egulated (M)aterials for (D)omestic transport only.

On many SkyGeek product pages you will see the ORM-D symbol; this means the product contains hazardous materials. But here’s the main point: ORM-D contains hazmat in limited quantity. Thus, you could say that ORM-D is a water-downed version of a hazmat.

So what kinds of products carry ORM-D? Not hardware or tools that’s for sure. But lighters and certain fuels do (even perfume and small arms ammunition). SkyGeek sells a lot of chemicals and substances and some of these products come in aerosol cans. Bingo. Aerosol cans are often labeled ORM-D.

Let’s use a best seller from our site as an example.

The Plexus 13 oz Aerosol Can contains the ORM-D symbol. But wait: you’ll notice that the symbol has another symbol right next to it, “DOT” (See Figure 1). That just refers to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the department responsible for handling hazmat-related issues. Actually, if you want to be more technical, an agency within the DOT works closely with dangerous goods transportation, i.e. the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Under CFR Title 49, the PHMSA has jurisdiction over the transportation of hazardous materials, including ORM-D.

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Figure 1 – Location of ORM-D symbol on a SkyGeek product page. (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Sorry for the tangent. Back to the Plexus…

As mentioned, the ORM-D symbol—as well as the DOT symbol—can be found on applicable product pages. Where? To the right of the image (See Figure 1) and above the “Add to Cart” button. But you’ll notice that there is more information accompanying these symbols. The MSDS document has been discussed in a previous post; the “Details” link was discussed in the hazmat post.

What’s left? Code, Class, and Group.

The Code for Plexus is UN1950; “UN” refers to the United Nations’ Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods. This committee, as the name implies, handles hazmat in regards to international transport; hence this code does not directly relate to ORM-D(omestic). Still, just in case you are wondering (come on, there HAS to be some safety geeks out there), UN1950 is described as “Aerosols, corrosive, Packing Group II or III, (each not exceeding 1 L capacity) or Aerosols, flammable (each not exceeding 1 L capacity) or Aerosols, flammable, n.o.s. (engine starting fluid) (each not exceeding 1 L capacity) or Aerosols, nonflammable (each not exceeding 1 L capacity) or Aerosols, poison, each not exceeding 1 L capacity.”

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Placard for products with Class 2.1 designation. (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

The Class for Plexus is 2.1. This refers to the hazmat nature of the product. Class 2 refers to gases and contains divisions (or sub-sections); products labeled 2.1 are considered flammable gases.

The Group is short for Packing Group. According to the Environmental Health & Safety page on NC State University’s website, packing groups “indicate the degree of risk a hazardous material may pose in transport in relation to other materials in that hazard class.” Since Plexus is Group II it is considered a “moderate danger,” as opposed to low (Group III) and high (Group I).

Speaking of packing, I found this clip that shows the proper method for shipping ORM-D:


Notice the ORM-D sticker placed on the package (around the 1:00 mark).

So there you have it – ORM-D explained once and for all.

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*Thanks to “Jeff Smith” for uploading that interesting, “behind-the-scenes” video on Youtube.

What is Hazmat?

“What is hazmat?” A simple question with a simple answer (well, sort of).

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The NFPA diamond on a SkyGeek product page (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Sure many of you are aware that hazmat is short-hand for “hazardous material(s)” but how exactly is that defined and what are the implications to those who encounter such substances?

Hazmat is an abbreviated term that represents a category of products considered “dangerous goods.” That means an item (in solid, liquid, or gas form) poses a threat to a person or the environment that is exposed to it. Because of this inherent health risk, these types of products are subject to regulations.

This relates to our site in that you will often find an item that is deemed hazmat. And if this is the case,  the item is accompanied by a Material Safety Data Sheet, or MSDS .

Like an MSDS, the regulations involved in classifying and identifying what is hazmat is determined by an organization or government (basically some authority on the subject). Thus, one country has one system while another country has another. Up until recently there was no universal code. However, now it would appear that is changing both in terms of MSDS and hazmat code.

In the United States, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is responsible for publically disseminating safety in regards to hazmat. This organization has devised NFPA 704, a standard that “presents a simple, readily recognized, and easily understood system of markings (commonly referred to as the “NFPA hazard diamond”) that provides an immediate general sense of the hazards of a material and the severity of these hazards as they relate to emergency response.”

Recently OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration via the U.S. Department of Labor) has joined forces with the NFPA so that labeling items as hazmat is at least a little less of a headache in years past. This is due in part because of what is called the Global Harmonization Initiative (aka GHI), an effort by the global scientific community to reach a consensus on how best to facilitate the transfer of information as it relates to safety regulations.

I found this clip that has a representative from the NFPA explaining the GHI:

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Figure 1 – Hazmat Fee Disclaimer (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

For a nice side-by-side comparison and quick reference of the content contained in the above clip, you can view this NFPA/OSHA Quick Card.

So beyond safety how does the hazmat label affect customers? Two words: Shipping and costs (that’s actually three, but whatever). If you land on a product page that contains the NFPA diamond , you will notice the word “Details.” Clicking that word will produce a pop-up message explaining that a fee is incurred with most items considered hazmat (See Figure 1). As we explain, things that can go ‘boom’ are dangerous to transport and that risk unfortunately comes at a price…

It’s understandable that individuals are uneasy whenever they see a hazmat symbol. That type of reaction is actually the desired result. A person dealing with dangerous goods should be on guard and handle with care. The hazmat symbol will alert you to this fact and is a visual cue to tread carefully.

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*A special thanks to Michael Beeks at Brulin
for making us aware of the Global Harmonization Initiative.