Dangerous goods

Harmless or not?

Most people working in the chemical sector understand the rules related to the storage and transport of their products. But many people are surprised at what is classified as dangerous or hazardous.

And they are even more surprised to find out that what is not “dangerous” in a low quantity can suddenly become so once a certain quantity limit is exceeded, or if a different packaging is used. In fact there are “dangerous” goods in almost every home and almost every handbag.

So this white paper examines the supply chain for packaged “dangerous goods” which may come as a surprise to many people – not just what are obviously chemicals but also food flavourings, perfume, soaps, detergents, cosmetics, dyes, paints and plastics.

Many of the individual containers will be labelled with symbols but these usually only relate to the hazards in use of the product, and do not automatically mean that it is dangerous in transport. However, it must not be assumed that all substances which are packed in small or retail packaging are not subject to transport regulations, since classification criteria vary so much.

Why is it important to know if you are shipping dangerous goods?

Dangerous goods – sometimes called hazardous materials – may be pure chemicals, mixtures of substances, manufactured products or articles which can pose a risk to people, animals or the environment if not properly handled in use or during transport.

Non-compliance with dangerous goods transport regulations can be costly. For example, one major retailer faced fines of $144,000 due to improper shipping paper declarations for the dangerous materials in its retail-sized bottles of nail polish and sun block. A leading pharmaceutical distribution company received a $91,000 fine for an undeclared shipment of skin care products containing alcohol.

If you are shipping items which have batteries included, you need to know that Lithium batteries can easily overheat and ignite in certain circumstances. Regulations were tightened in 2009 after several serious fire incidents during their transport. So it goes without saying: shipping dangerous goods requires both careful planning and specialised knowledge.

Dangerous Goods Safety Adviser

What else you need to be aware of

You must have a dangerous goods safety adviser (DGSA) if you transport dangerous goods unless:

  • they are in “limited quantities”
  • you only occasionally engage in the carriage, loading or unloading of dangerous goods posing little danger of risk.

Your DGSAs and any other employees dealing with dangerous goods must all undergo appropriate training. You should have a DGSA if you are shipping goods internationally.


Who is deemed to be an employee dealing with dangerous goods?

Anyone who ships or causes to be shipped dangerous goods including people who:

  • Load and unload or handle dangerous materials/goods
  • Prepare dangerous materials/goods for transportation, and/or
  • Operate a vehicle used to transport dangerous materials/goods

The definition also includes anyone who designs, manufactures, fabricates, inspects, reconditions, maintains/ repairs or tests a package or packaging component that is qualified for use in transporting hazardous materials.


You don’t need to follow all the normal packaging and labelling regulations, and you don’t have to have a dangerous goods safety adviser if you’re transporting “limited quantities” of some dangerous goods. But your staff must still have safety training.

Determine the terms of sale/International Incoterms

You need to know when your responsibilities as shipper start and end. If you are shipping your cargo Delivered Duty Paid (DDP), you will be responsible for the shipment from your door to the consignee’s door. DDP includes all aspects and risks including insurance, duties, taxes, freight and customs clearance processes. Being aware of your responsibilities is the first step.

Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)

This can be obtained from the company you purchased the product from.

Packaging and labelling

The packing and labelling of goods is one of the most important things you need to consider for shipments that are going by air or sea. You must use United Nations (UN) approved boxes and labels with the legally required markings.

The UN has established a universal system for the classification, packaging, marking and labelling of dangerous goods to facilitate their safe transport. National and international regulations governing road, rail, sea and air transport are all based on the UN system. Under the regulations, packaging must meet or exceed minimum standards of performance before it can be authorised for the carriage of dangerous goods.

Packing limited quantities

Dangerous goods shipped in limited quantities may only be packed in inner packaging placed in suitable outer packaging.

The maximum weight is 30kg for outer packaging, or 20kg for shrink-wrapped trays. The maximum weight for the individual containers depends on the type of goods.

These limits are listed in column 7a of the ‘Dangerous goods list’ in part 3 of ADR and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. For certain goods, the limit in column 7a of Table A is zero, which means that those goods may not be shipped as limited quantities – in other words that dangerous goods rules apply regardless of the quantity in the shipment.

Mode of transport

The regulations governing the transport of dangerous goods by:

  • Air - is specified in ‘IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations by Air
  • Sea - the ‘IMDG
  • Road - ADR covers the regulations for road transportation. See the EU directives applicable within all countries that have adopted the ADR convention in their legislation and the EU.
  • Rail - The international carriage of dangerous goods by rail is governed by Appendix C of the Convention Covering International Carriage by Rail - International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Rail. National regulations can also apply for domestic shipments.
  • Inland waterway - In the European Union, the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Inland Navigation (ADN) came into force on 28 February 2009.

All dangerous goods are classified according to these manuals and the rules are all explained in detail. You need to check if your goods are permitted to be shipped by all modes of transport or if they have to be shipped by air or land due to regulations by sea. You also need to check onward transportation from the port or airport which will be by road or rail.

As you can see, you need to make sure you have a well thought plan of action prior to shipment.


Documentation is a priority for all dangerous goods shipments. It is best to use a specialist company, for example a freight forwarder, to undertake this
for you. But if you decide to do your own documentation then you need to make sure you check that there are no hidden mistakes which could cause your shipment to be ‘snagged’ by the carrier causing unnecessary delays to your goods.

The ‘Dangerous Goods Note’ is a legal requirement for the transportation of goods by air or sea. The person responsible for signing the ‘Dangerous Goods Note’ is required by law to have had the appropriate training (see section above on training).

Check List for documentation you will require:

  • Dangerous Goods Note
  • A commercial invoice
  • Packing List
  • Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), *
  • Shipper’s letter of instruction
  • A certificate of origin (sometimes)

It is your responsibility to provide the proper export documentation to your freight forwarder/logistics provider.

* Not always required, but may be asked for as part of the booking procedure.

Working with a freight forwarder

Most international freight forwarders have trained personnel who are able to offer customers the benefit of their knowledge, and handle dangerous/hazardous goods shipments. It is also through their good relationships with airlines and shipping lines that they are able to secure priority space for dangerous/hazardous consignments. Remember though, that it is always you as the customer who has the legal liability, and so you need to make sure
your documentation is in order.

The recipient of your shipment

Involve the recipient, by giving all of the details prior to the shipment, no matter what Incoterms you are shipping under. This will enable them to work with the local agencies in the country receiving the goods to avoid customs seizure and penalties.

Your responsibilities

It is always your responsibility to comply with laws and regulations regarding shipment of dangerous goods. From a legal point of view, it is not possible to pass this responsibility to a logistics supplier, freight forwarder or carrier.

Where you can find out more



National regulations also apply, but are too numerous to list here.


Classes of Dangerous Goods

Dangerous goods are separated into different classes which affect how you must package and transport them. If you are only shipping limited quantities the rules can be less strict. In such cases, it is important to check the definition of “limited quantity”.

Class Type of material
 1 Explosive substances and articles
 2.1 Flammable gas (e.g. butane)
 2.2 Non-flammable and non-toxic gases which could cause asphyxiation (e.g. nitrogen, helium, carbon dioxide) or
oxidisers (e.g. oxygen)
 2.3 Toxic gases (e.g. chlorine, phosgene)
 3 Flammable liquids (e.g. lighter fluid, petrol)
 4.1 Flammable solids, self-reactive substances and solid desensitised explosives
 4.2 Substances liable to spontaneous combustion
 4.3 Substances which, in contact with water, emit flammable gases
 5.1 Oxidising substances
 5.2 Organic peroxides
 6.1 Toxic substances
 6.2 Infectious substances
 7 Radioactive material
 8 Corrosive substances
 9 Miscellaneous dangerous substances and articles



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