Dangerous goods are materials or items with physical and chemical properties which, if not properly controlled, present a potential hazard to human health and safety and/or infrastructure. The transportation of dangerous goods is regulated internationally by European agreements, directives and regulations. If you're involved in any part of the carriage of dangerous goods process (this includes processing and packing), you will need to classify them according to the UN classification system. There are nine categories of dangerous goods:
Class 1: Explosives
Explosives are dangerous because they have molecules designed to rapidly change their state, which is usually solid state into a very hot gas. This produces a sudden and violent physical effect. Examples include fireworks and airbag inflators. There are 6 divisions in Class 1, which relate to how the explosives react when initiated. For example, division 1.1 is used if an explosive is a mass explosion hazard.
Class 2: Gases
Gases are mostly carried under pressure to reduce their volume, which saves space in transport and storage. This pressure creates danger because it never dissipates. Gases are also heavier than air, which means they can cause suffocation if they displace air in confined spaces. Examples include aerosols and fire extinguishers.
Class 3: Flammable liquids
Flammable liquids require a much lower temperature than others to ignite. These temperatures are so low that there is a high risk of the liquids igniting during transportation. This makes flammable liquids very dangerous to handle and transport, as they are very volatile and combustible.
Class 4: Flammable solids, Spontaneously combustible and Dangerous when wet
- Class 4.1 Flammable solids: These will burn more easily than normal combustible materials. The burning of flammable solids is also fierce and rapid; they are also incredibly dangerous because they can decompose explosively, burn vigorously, or produce toxic gases.
- Class 4.2 Spontaneously combustible: These can be either solids or liquids. They ignite spontaneously when in contact with oxygen.
- Class 4.3 Dangerous when wet: These goods react with water to generate flammable gas that can be ignited by the heat of the reaction.
Class 5: Oxidising Agents and Organic peroxides
- Class 5.1 Oxidising Agents: These are often extremely reactive because of their high oxygen content. They react readily with other flammable or combustible materials, which means fires may break out and continue in confined spaces. These materials are also incredibly difficult to extinguish, which makes them even more dangerous.
- Class 5.2 Organic peroxides: The molecular structure of these materials makes them extremely liable to ignition. They are designed to be reactive for industrial purposes, so they are unstable and can be explosive.
Class 6: Toxins and Infectious substances
- Class 6.1 Toxins: These are chemical poisons that are hazardous to human health. If they enter the body through swallowing, breathing in, or absorption through the skin, they could kill in minutes.
- Class 6.2 Infectious substances: These are goods that contain micro-organisms that cause infectious disease in humans or animals, otherwise known as pathogens.
Class 7: Radioactive material
Radioactive materials contain unstable atoms that change their structure spontaneously in a random fashion. When an atom changes, they emit ionising radiation, which could cause chemical or biological change. This type of radiation can be dangerous to the human body. Smoke detectors are an example.
Class 8: Corrosives
Corrosives are highly reactive materials which produce positive chemical effects. This means they can be very dangerous to the human body. Examples include batteries and bleach
Class 9: Miscellaneous dangerous goods
This category covers substances that present a danger not covered in the other classes. Examples include dry ice, GMO's, motor engines, seat belt pretensioner, marine pollutants, asbestos, airbag modules and magnetised material.
Hazardous goods and prohibited goods
Dangerous goods are classified based on their immediate physical or chemical effects, including fires or explosions. Hazardous substances differ because they're classified based only on health effects. Dangerous goods and hazardous substances are covered by separate legislation, however, there is some overlap. The regulations for hazardous substances focus on controlling the different risks associated with them.
Prohibited goods are goods that will be seized at customs. You cannot import or export prohibited goods because they've been banned for reasons linked to health, environment, security and legislation. Examples include illegal drugs, rough diamonds and offensive weapons. In contrast, you can ship dangerous goods, but you need to adhere to the UN Model Dangerous Goods Regulations and obtain a licence.
How do you know if the goods you're shipping are dangerous?
You can find out whether your shipments are dangerous goods by referring to the UN Dangerous Goods List, or by checking to see if they have a Material Data Safety Sheet. You can also refer to transport-specific regulations set out by bodies such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the ADR (concerning European road transport), International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Rail and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). They can all advise on how to handle and transport your dangerous goods.
The UN Model Dangerous Goods Regulations can also advise on how to pack dangerous goods. When packing shipments, you should consider the packing group, writing the shipment name in upper case letters, hazard class labels UN identification number, UN certification mark, and an orientation label (for liquids). Packages must contain either a Dangerous Goods Note or a Declaration for Dangerous Goods, be able to withstand open weather exposure and all labels must be displayed on contrasting colour background. A Dangerous Goods Note is usually completed by a consignor with qualified personnel within the company. These notes give the receiving authority accurate information about the goods so that they can be handled safely and legally.