Learn how to protect yourself, others, and the environment from hazardous substances.
Published 31 May 2023
Hazardous substances are materials that can cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment. These substances can be found in many forms, such as chemicals, gases, liquids, and solids, and can be used in various industries, including manufacturing, construction, and agriculture.
Examples of hazardous substances include asbestos, lead, mercury, and pesticides. Exposure to these substances can lead to various health problems, including respiratory issues, cancer, and neurological damage.
It’s important to know if a substance is hazardous before handling it. Some common signs of dangerous substances include warning labels, Safety Data Sheets (SDS), and pictograms.
If you are unsure if a substance is hazardous, it’s best to err on the side of caution and assume it is until you can confirm otherwise.
Various government agencies and laws regulate hazardous substances to protect public health and the environment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets standards for workplace exposure to dangerous substances, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the storage, transportation, and disposal of hazardous materials.
The EPA also enforces the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which requires companies to report on and test the safety of new chemicals before they are introduced to the market. Meanwhile, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulates hazardous waste generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal.
In addition, the Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates the transportation of hazardous materials, including labeling and packaging requirements. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also regulates dangerous substances in food and drugs to ensure they are safe for consumption.
State and local governments may also have regulations for hazardous substances, such as requirements for reporting spills or releases and restrictions on using specific chemicals.
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The Australian Dangerous Goods (ADG) Code identifies nine categories of hazardous materials. Materials are classified based on their physical and chemical properties, as well as the potential risks they pose.
Explosives are materials that can cause the sudden and violent release of energy, resulting in an explosion. This class includes various materials, from fireworks and ammunition to industrial explosives used in mining and demolition.
Transportation and storage of explosives require special precautions and regulations to ensure safety, including proper labeling, packaging, and handling procedures.
Flammable gases can ignite quickly, causing explosions or fires. Examples of combustible gases include propane, butane, and methane. Various industries use these gases, such as welding, heating, and cooking.
Liquids that have the potential to ignite in the presence of a source of ignition are categorized as flammable substances. Vehicles, generators, and outdoor power equipment commonly use these power sources.
Flammable solids are materials that have the potential to ignite on their own or produce combustible gases when exposed to water. The combustion of flammable solids can lead to the emission of hazardous gases.
These substances can release oxygen and support combustion, making them extremely dangerous if improperly handled. Oxidizing substances can be found in various industries, including chemical manufacturing, mining, and transportation. They’re often used as catalysts or chemical reactions to produce other substances.
Class 6 is categorized into two sub-divisions based on the ADG code:
These materials emit ionizing radiation, which can cause damage to living cells and tissues. Radioactive materials are used in medical facilities, research labs, and nuclear power plants.
They are chemicals that can cause damage to living tissue or other materials upon contacts, such as skin, eyes, and metals. Examples of corrosive substances include acids, bases, and certain cleaning products. These substances can cause severe burns, respiratory problems, and other health hazards if not handled properly.
This category encompasses a wide range of hazardous substances that don’t fit into any other specific category. It includes items such as batteries, pesticides, and asbestos-containing materials. The proper disposal of class 9 hazardous waste is crucial for human and environmental health.
The health impacts of hazardous substances vary based on the specific type and the amount of exposure, including concentration and duration. Exposure to a dangerous substance can occur through inhalation, skin or eye contact, or ingestion. Possible health effects may include:
Employers are responsible for providing employees with access to Safety Data Sheets for all hazardous substances used in the workplace and maintaining a central register of such chemicals.
Warning labels on hazardous substances must comply with the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) or other methods outlined by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). It would also be beneficial to use signs and symbols compliant with ISO 7000.
Recommended guidelines for warning labels on hazardous substances include:
To classify and communicate chemical hazards internationally, the Global Harmonized System (GHS) uses pictograms, terminology, and data on chemical labels.
The Safety Data Sheet also provides essential details on safe product handling, which include:
Recommendations for decreasing contact with dangerous materials at work consist of the following:
OSHA requires recording hazardous substances at work, including:
Hazardous substances are used in various industries, including agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and healthcare. They can be used as pesticides, fertilizers, cleaning agents, fuels, and in the production of consumer goods. These substances can be helpful, but improper handling can pose a health and environmental risk.
Hazardous substances have four basic characteristics:
Hazardous substances can have a significant impact on the environment. These substances can pollute the air, water, and soil, negatively affecting plant and animal life. The effect of hazardous substances on the environment can also have economic consequences. Cleanup and remediation efforts can be expensive, and the loss of biodiversity and natural resources can harm industries such as agriculture and tourism.
Penalties for violating hazardous substance regulations can be severe, including fines, imprisonment, and civil liability for damages. Businesses and individuals must understand and comply with these regulations to protect themselves and their communities.
SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) can help you identify potential hazards and develop effective management strategies. Proactive safety audits and inspections enable you to identify areas where improvements are needed and address them.
Using SafetyCulture, organizations can do the following:
Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He is a content writer who also does copy for websites, sales pages, and landing pages. Rob worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade before joining SafetyCulture. He got interested in writing because of the influence of his friends; aside from writing, he has an interest in personal finance, dogs, and collecting Allen Iverson cards.
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