A hazardous material is a substance that may present risks for humans, animals, property, and/or the environment. It’s caused by:

  • Its physicochemical characteristics
  • Toxicological characteristics
  • The nature of the reactions it’s likely to produce

Every day, a wide variety of dangerous goods are transported throughout the world. The majority of them are intended for industrial use. These goods can be transported in liquid form (e.g. chlorine, propane, soda...) or solid form (e.g. explosives, ammonium nitrate...). These substances often have a higher concentration and aggressiveness than those used for domestic purposes.

The definition of hazmat does not only concern highly toxic, explosive or polluting products--it also concerns all products that you regularly need such as:

  • Fuels
  • Gas
  • Solid or liquid fertilizers

In the event of an incident, these items may present real risks to people or the environment. Among the main hazardous materials we can mention:

  • Explosives, ammunition and fireworks
  • Gases and gas mixtures
  • Flammable liquids and solids and mixtures of materials subject to spontaneous ignition
  • Chemicals that, in contact with water, emit flammable gases
  • Flammable materials such as oxidizing or oxidizing and organic peroxides
  • Toxic materials
  • Infectious substances
  • Radioactive chemicals
  • Corrosive chemicals
  • Environmentally hazardous chemicals and water

Hazmat is only referred to when it is transported on public roads. Those materials that are transported within a company's fenced enclosure are not subject to hazardous materials regulations. All transport of hazmat must be supported by a load declaration transport document.

What's Hazmat Mean?

Hazardous materials are objects, solutions, mixtures, preparations, and waste that create a risk to:

  • Health
  • Safety
  • Property
  • Environment

Each hazardous material is subject to one or more specific types of risk. They are listed in the form of hazard classes and have a UN number. The latter is defined by the United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods. These UN numbers are valid worldwide.

The transport of hazmat is subject to strict safety regulations. They are specific to each mode of transport which--among other things--set out the conditions for:

  • Packaging
  • Documentation
  • Loading
  • Unloading
  • Handling
  • Storage of these goods

Radioactive substances are governed by extra specific provisions. These rules specify:

  • The goods whose transport is prohibited
  • The documents and equipment required
  • The authorizations to be obtained for the transport of hazmat

The hazardous items are also subject to appropriate packaging and labelling. These contain the hazard classes and pictograms detailed in the regulations. These regulations inform the public of the potential danger represented by the transported material. Some dangerous substances or commodities cannot be transported together. Hence the importance of the information indicated. Packages must be properly secured and handled with care to prevent any damage.

Each company whose activity involves the transport of dangerous goods by road, rail or inland waterway is obliged to appoint one or more safety advisers. These safety advisers hold a training certificate attesting to their professional qualification. Their role is to facilitate the performance of transport activities or the loading and unloading of hazmat. It's done in compliance with the applicable local and national regulations. Companies which have to appoint a safety adviser are required to communicate the identity of the safety adviser--especially if requested to do so by the relevant institution.

Hazmat Classifications

Hazmat is divided into several classes. These classes characterize the main risks likely to emanate from a hazardous material. There are also sub-classes that describe the secondary risks. These are:

  • Class 1: Explosive substances and articles containing explosive substances
  • Class 2.1: Flammable gases
  • Class 2.2: Non-flammable gases
  • Class 2.3: Toxic gases
  • Class 3: Flammable liquids
  • Class 4.1: Flammable solids
  • Class 4.2: Substances liable to spontaneous ignition
  • Class 4.3: Substances which, in contact with water, emit flammable gases
  • Class 5.1: Oxidizing materials
  • Class 5.2: Organic peroxides
  • Class 6.1: Toxic substances
  • Class 6.2: Infectious substances
  • Class 7: Radioactive materials
  • Class 8: Corrosive materials
  • Class 9: Miscellaneous dangerous substances and objects

Why Is It Important to Classify Hazmat Correctly?

The requirements and regulations to be applied when handling hazmat depend on the assignment of these items and substances to:

  • A class
  • A group
  • A substance identification number.

The latter is better known as the UN number. These designations are combined with other data such as the weight and the packing unit. Together, they make it possible to correctly define all behavior, requirements and demands that are important for transport.


Who Classifies Hazmat?

It’s the primary shipper who decides whether the goods to be transported are hazardous. This shipper also decides which class should be assigned to the goods. He knows the merchandise to be transported and the substances it contains. He is in the best position to classify it accordingly.

If the manufacturer of the waste and the consignor are not the same person, the manufacturer is required to provide the consignor with the necessary information. The consignor is obliged to pass on the necessary information to all the other parties involved in the transport operation. Certain dangerous substances may only be transported if they have received an express transport authorization mentioning their name.

The DGR establishes a list of substances or objects that are assimilated to a dangerous substance--regardless of their properties. These are:

  • Mineral or synthetic oils
  • Mineral or synthetic greases
  • Contaminated empty containers
  • Gas cylinders or aerosol containers containing a hazardous material
  • Chemicals or objects containing 3% or more by mass of oil or grease
  • Substances or articles containing a significant amount of organic halogens
  • Chemicals containing or contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Surface contaminated items or objects

What's Excluded From the Hazmat Explanation

Some hazardous materials were already covered by regulations, policies or directives before the coming into force of the DGR. This means that in cases where the existing framework had proven adequate, these materials were excluded from the concept of hazmat. These are:

  • Contaminated soil, with the exception of soil containing more a significant concentration of PCBs
  • Construction, dismantling and renovation materials except those considered as hazardous
  • Scrap metal and other metal objects
  • Fabrics other than absorbents used for the recovery of hazardous materials
  • Biomedical waste as regulated by the Biomedical Waste Regulation
  • Pulp and paper mill waste
  • Pesticides regulated under the Pesticides Act
  • Slurries and rinses
  • Wastewater except captive rinsing baths for surface treatment
  • Mine tailings
  • Dredged material
  • Used snow
  • Certain radioactive materials
  • Asphalt concrete, asphalt shingles, solid plastic, solid rubber and asbestos
  • Sludge from a septic tank or municipal water treatment plant
  • Waste from an underground manhole or sump
  • Manure and slurry
  • Treated wood
  • Motor vehicle shredder residue
  • Smoke detectors
  • Ash and other residue from a biomedical waste incinerator or incineration facility

Hazardous materials are transported all over the world by various means of transport. Therefore, the number of regulations to be complied with is significant. There are comprehensive national and international laws, directives, regulations and agreements concerning hazmat.

These texts precisely describe the requirements on the:

  • Classification
  • Packaging
  • Identification
  • Technical equipment of the means of transport.

They also define the organizational measures, obligations and responsibilities in the transport of hazardous materials.

For historical reasons, the requirements are described separately for all means of transport:

  • Rail
  • Road
  • Inland waterway
  • Sea
  • Air

In the past, these different requirements have been increasingly harmonized. They are constantly being adapted to new requirements and data, as is the knowledge gained from the analysis of incidents involving hazmat.

What are the criteria for determining hazardousness?

A material is classified as hazardous when it’s likely to cause serious consequences for people, property and/or the environment. This is based on its physical and/or chemical properties--or by the nature of the reactions it may cause.

There are nine categories of risk:

  • The explosive character: property of violently decomposing under the action of heat or shock, causing an enormous mass of hot gases and a shock wave
  • The gas risk: risk of leakage or bursting of the container, diffusion of the gas in the atmosphere, risk specific to the nature of the gas (flammability, toxicity, corrosiveness, etc.)
  • Flammability: property of igniting easily
  • Toxicity: property of poisoning, i.e. to harm health or cause death by inhalation, skin absorption or ingestion
  • Radioactivity: the property of emitting various types of radiation dangerous to living beings
  • Corrosiveness: the property of gnawing, oxidizing or corroding materials (metals, fabrics, etc.) or living tissues (skin, mucous membranes, etc.)
  • Infectious risk: property of causing serious diseases in humans or animals. This risk concerns materials containing infectious micro-organisms such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, etc
  • The danger of spontaneous violent reaction: possibility of reacting sharply and spontaneously in the form of an explosion with production of heat and release of flammable or toxic gases under high pressure
  • The risk of burns: property of causing burns by hot or cold

Some items present only one risk, while others combine several risks. This is the case--for example--with hydrocyanic acid. It's toxic, flammable and corrosive all at once.

In total, so-called dangerous goods refer to approximately 3,000 UN numbers. Those are corresponding to identified substances or generic categories.

The Risks of Transporting Hazardous Materials

Dangerous materials don't only concern toxic or radioactive products, but also products of daily use. Accidents involving hazardous materials can have very serious consequences for humans and the environment. For this reason, these products are subject to rigorous classification.

Four types of effects may be associated with the hazmat risk:

  • Explosion: As a result of a simple shock or spark, heating or fire exposure, hazardous materials can explode and generate a shock wave with projectiles and flames.
  • Fire: Accidental spark impact, heating or ignition may ignite combustible materials. Fire can cause a lot of direct damage, as well as asphyxiation and poisoning.
  • The formation of a toxic cloud: Following a leak or a combustion, a toxic gas cloud can spread and cause air and soil pollution, as well as contamination of agricultural products and the development of pathologies (irritation, pulmonary oedema, etc.).
  • The leakage of a polluting liquid: The rupture of the chemical containment can result in run-off and pollution of soil and water. Drinking water supply, water-related activities (fishing, aquaculture, bathing...) and ecosystems can then be compromised.

Once the hazardous materials have arrived at their final destination, it’s necessary to comply with safety regulations in order to store them in a safe and controlled manner.

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