What is the difference between dangerous goods and hazardous substances?
May 10, 2018

What is the difference between dangerous goods and hazardous substances?

Rachel Chesterfield Rachel Chesterfield

No matter what industry you are in, or where your business is located; at some stage in your life you would have no doubt had something to do with either dangerous goods or hazardous substances. Perhaps both terms have been used and you’ve passed them off as being the same thing. In actuality, the definition and application of dangerous goods and hazardous substances are significantly different. Dangerous goods and hazardous substances must also be stored and handled differently in order to safely protect the people and property of your workplace.  

Dangerous Goods

Dangerous goods can be defined as per the following:

‘An object, substance or material that presents an immediate degree of risk to people, property and the environment due to the nature of its physical and chemical properties.’

Put simply, dangerous goods present an immediate level of chemical and physical danger to the surrounding environment, including people and property.  ‘Standards Australia’ has established a set of standards relevant to the different classes of dangerous goods to ensure they are treated in such a way that will reduce risk and protect you and your colleagues in the workplace.

We should all be familiar with the nine classes of dangerous goods:  explosives, gases, flammable liquids, flammable solids, oxidizing agents and organic peroxides, toxic substances, radioactive material, corrosive substances, and miscellaneous dangerous goods.

All these classes of dangerous goods present a certain level of danger in a chemical and/or physical form to people, property and the environment.  Explosives present the obvious danger of an unintended explosion in an uncontrolled, unprepared environment. Class 2 dangerous gases – present the immediate risk of violent chemical reactions if mixed with other incompatible substances and fires from the ignition of flammable vapours.  The most well-known class of dangerous goods – class 3 flammable liquids – is notable for releasing flammable vapours capable of ignition when held at temperatures above the ‘substances’ flash point. Note that the flashpoint of most flammable liquids are equal to or below standard working temperatures. Class 4 flammable solids present various risks such as spontaneous combustion and the emission of flammable gases when in contact with water. Each class of dangerous goods presents a different risk, but each risk will harm people, property and the environment.

Dangerous goods can include products such as paints, chemicals, oil, fuels and a number of other commonly used substances. When dangerous goods are used in the workplace, it is important to be aware of their dangerous properties so that you can store them in a safe and compliant manner. The properties of dangerous substances can be found by checking the products SDS, speaking to a product supplier or dangerous goods specialist.  

Hazardous substances

Hazardous substances can be defined as: A product, material or substance that has the potential to be harmful to a person’s health, both short and long term.

In short, hazardous substances are substances that are dangerous to a person’s health. Each state has its own legislative requirements regarding hazardous substances, generally in the form of a code of practice that supports a regulation and the occupational health and safety acts.  Despite some codes of practice being voluntary and not enforceable by law, there are other codes of practice which are supported by regulations and acts which make them mandatory. It is important to speak with a specialist to ensure that you are meeting regulatory compliance in regards to the storage and handling of hazardous substances.

The most common hazardous substances are toxics, corrosives and irritants. This includes substances such as asbestos, acids, pesticides and heavy metals.

Difference between dangerous and hazardous substances

The core difference that lies between dangerous goods and hazardous substances is that dangerous goods present an immediate danger to people, property and the environment, that may ultimately harm a person’s health; on the other hand, hazardous substances are substances that present a direct risk to a person’s health both short and long-term.

Hazardous substances are dangerous, particularly if the exposure to the hazardous substance is an extended period. Dangerous goods present a more immediate risk, and need to be constantly controlled as a direct danger.

Should a worker come into contact with a hazardous substance for a short period of time, they are not as likely to be presented with the same level of risk that they would be when exposed to a substance classed as a dangerous good.

Let’s take asbestos and acetone as examples.  Asbestos is classified as a hazardous substance, whereas acetone is classified as a class 3 dangerous good.  People that have suffered health effects from products such as asbestos have generally been exposed to the substance for a significant period. If someone was near a flammable liquid, such as acetone, for a short amount of time and the substance came into contact with an ignition source, the substance would ignite and put that person at an immediate risk of severe harm.

Evidently, there is some overlap between dangerous goods and hazardous substances. No matter whether the substances that are used in your workplace are classified as a dangerous good or a hazardous substance, it is important to implement the necessary controls to reduce the risks that they have upon the people, property and environment of your organisation.

How to reduce the risk of dangerous goods and hazardous substances

Despite the overlap between dangerous goods and hazardous substances, both categories need to be controlled according to their unique properties to ensure that the risks they present upon the workplace are reduced. Below we have outlined some factors that can be considered in regard to the storage and handling of both dangerous goods and hazardous substances.

  • Firstly, it is crucial that you are familiar with the products that you are handling and storing. You may be aware of the substances risks and dangers, but what about everyone else that could be potentially exposed to the substance? Everyone in the workplace must be familiar with the hazardous properties associated with the substance that they are exposed to.
  • It is important to ensure that your store all dangerous goods and hazardous substances in a safe can compliant manner. All dangerous goods and hazardous substances present different risks and therefore they must all be stored using different methods. If you are unaware of how each substance must be stored, it is important to consult a dangerous goods expert.
  • Dangerous goods and hazardous substances must be signed and labelled to make people aware of the potential risks associated with the substances. It is also important to have the correct documentation such as safety data sheets to allow workers look up essential information such as the best practices for the storage and handling of each substance.
  • Over time, dangerous goods and hazardous substances will slowly degrade your storage facilities. To ensure that your workplace is adequately protected, it is important to have scheduled maintenance programmes to ensure that your dangerous goods storage facilities are in good condition and adequately protecting the people in your workplace from the risk associated with substances stored within.

Next Steps

As dangerous goods and hazardous substances present many risks upon the people and property in your workplace, it is very important that you implement the necessary controls to reduce the harm that they could have upon the people in your workplace. To successfully implement preventative controls, it is very important to be aware of properties associated with the 9 different classes of dangerous goods. If you would like more information on the chemical and physical properties of the 9 different classes of dangerous goods, download our FREE eBook by clicking on the image below.

Dangerous Goods - What are they?

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