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Dangerous Goods – Classes, Definition & Examples

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According to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the register of internationally classified dangerous goods has 3,500 entries. When do goods pose a danger? What are dangerous goods?

If dangerous goods are transported by road, rail, water or air, a dedicated safety advisor must be appointed. But which goods fall into the category of dangerous goods? Around 3,500 substances are listed in the catalog with their UN number and must be handled with special care and under regulations, such as documentation, during transport or storage.

The classification is regulated internationally according to model regulations of the United Nations. For transports across the border, uniform markings of dangerous goods transports are intended to increase safety. We will show you how they are classified and how you can benefit from external dangerous goods safety advisors.

What are dangerous goods?

According to the law on the transport of dangerous goods also Gefahrgutbeförderungsgesetz (GGBefG), the definition of “dangerous goods” is met for substances and objects if they:

by reason of their nature, characteristics or condition, in connection with the carriage, may present hazards to public safety or order, in particular to the general public, to important public property, to human life and health, and to animals and property.”

This “danger” for humans, animals and the environment emanates from many different substances. The classification of the UN has prevailed, which divides dangerous goods into classes and prescribes a model for the labeling. I.e. every good that has a UN number is considered dangerous goods!

But where do you find the UN number? You can sometimes find it on the goods themselves – but the UN number doesn’t have to be there. The only reliable source is the safety data sheet. There you can find the UN number in the transport section.

Conversely, goods without a UN number are NOT dangerous goods.

The 9 dangerous goods classes

There are 9 different classes of dangerous goods with subclasses, which are marked separately and for the transport of which certain regulations and precautions must be observed.

We show which classes there are and which examples of them are in the class.

Class 1 – explosives

The class includes explosives and articles containing explosives.

Dangerous goods class 1 is subdivided into further subclasses. These depend on the sensitivity during transport and the effects in the event of an explosion.

Examples of class 1: TNT, airbags

Class 2 – gases

This class distinguishes between gases that are flammable (Class 2.1), non-flammable (Class 2.2) or toxic (Class 2.3).

Examples for this class 2: helium, neon, nitrogen

Class 3 – Flammable liquids

Flammable or combustible are all substances that catch fire even when exposed to relatively low heat (low flash point).

Examples: gasoline, diesel, fuel oil, alcohol.

Class 4 – Flammable solids

Three subclasses are found in class 4:

Class 4.1 Flammable solids,

Class 4.2 Substances liable to spontaneous combustion

Class 4.3 Substances which form flammable gases with water

Examples of dangerous goods of the class 4: aluminum powder, phosphorus, calcium carbide.

Class 5 – flammable substances / oxidizing substances

There are two subclasses in dangerous goods class 5:

Class 5.1 Flammable (oxidizing) substances

Class 5.2 Organic peroxides

Examples of the class: oxygen, cross-linking agents in the rubber industry

Class 6 – Toxic substances

There are two subclasses in grade 6:

Class 6.1 Toxic substances

Class 6.2 Infectious substances

Examples of the class: agents for pest control, hospital waste.

Class 7 – Radioactive materials

This group includes all substances that emit radioactive, i.e. spontaneously ionizing, radiation.

Examples of the class: spent fuel rods, medical equipment or medicines.

Class 8 – Corrosive substances

Substances in this class are corrosive due to their acidic or basic pH.

Examples class 8: sulfuric acid

Class 9 – other dangerous substances and articles

This “catch-all” class contains hazardous substances that cannot be assigned to any other category.

Examples of the class: asbestos, lithium batteries (class 9A)

Other classes subject to labeling:

  • Environmentally hazardous substances
  • Marking for materials transported in a heated state

What makes a hazardous material a dangerous goods?

Basically, hazardous materials and dangerous goods are not the same!

A substance is referred to as a hazardous MATERIAL if it poses a risk during use or storage. The legal basis is formed by the Hazardous Substances Ordinance and the Water Resources Act in the broader sense.

An object or substance is classified as a dangerous good if it poses a particular hazard during transport. In concrete terms, this means that in the event of a (traffic) accident, for example, further hazards emanate from a substance or object, for example because it is highly flammable or under pressure. The legal basis here is formed by the dangerous goods regulations of the respective transport carriers (ADR, GGVSEB, GGVSee, …). We explain the difference between hazardous substances and dangerous goods in detail in the blog article.

Different dangerous goods regulations per mode of transport

Agreements and regulations on the transport of dangerous goods are divided by mode of transport. There are regulations for the transport of dangerous goods by road, rail, air, sea or inland waterway. These apply internationally, within the UN or even worldwide. The agreement on the transport of dangerous goods by road (ADR) alone is recognized in more than 50 countries.

In addition to the international regulations, however, there are also special national regulations that are anchored in the respective national law, e.g. in Germany in the Dangerous Goods Ordinance for Road, Rail and Inland Navigation (GGVSEB). For example, for the transport on the Danube.

Each mode of transport has its own dangerous goods legislation:

  • Road: International Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR).
  • Rail: Regulations concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Rail (RID)
  • Sea: transport by sea-going vessels (IMDG)
  • Inland waterways: transport of dangerous goods by inland waterways (ADN)
  • Air freight: International IATA Declaration

Checklist – What is dangerous goods?

If you are transporting hazardous materials, you may be subject to regulations governing the transportation of dangerous goods. To determine them, you need to analyze the type of goods and their quantity:

Is there a UN number?

If the safety data sheet of the product contains a UN number, then it is a dangerous goods. There you can also find out which class it is assigned to. The type of labeling and packaging to be used can be found in the tables of the respective regulations ADR, AND, RID IMDG or IATA. Any special regulations can also be found there. You are unsure or would like support from a professional? Then please contact us!

In what quantities are dangerous goods transported?

Depending on the quantity and UN number of the goods transported, special regulations can be applied that offer relief. For example, the regulations on limited quantity, the 1000 points rule, exemptions or exceptions for certain occupational groups.

Learn more in our ADR Limited Quantity Calculator!

Whether and which special regulations and facilitations apply in a specific case can basically be found out by looking up the respective tables in the legal texts of ADR, AND, RID, IMDG or IATA. Caution applies to own interpretations: Real legal certainty can only be obtained from experienced dangerous goods safety advisors. In many cases, the appointment of a dangerous goods safety advisor is even mandatory!

Safety through dangerous goods safety advisors from ProSafeCon

You can only obtain real safety for your transports from trained safety advisors. As soon as you handle dangerous goods commercially, you should consult a safety advisor to assess the situation. This person will help you understand which regulations apply and whether you are obligated to appoint a safety advisor.

With external advisors from ProSafeCon you save money compared to your own dangerous goods safety advisor and can reduce your own liability risk. This is especially the case if the amount of dangerous goods transports and the documentation does not utilize an own dangerous goods safety advisor or if no internal employee wants to take over the personal liability risks.

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UN-Number and Dangerous Goods Classes: How are they related?
The UN number and dangerous goods classes form the two basic characteristics of how dangerous goods are clearly categorized. Read more here!
Dangerous Goods Transport: Regulations and Law
When does a transport count as a dangerous goods transport? What regulations and laws apply? Here you can find out everything about the transport of dangerous goods.
Carrying dangerous goods: What does a transport document (ADR) look like?
How to fill in a dangerous goods transport document? Use our transport document template and completion guide. Discover now!
Dangerous Goods - Classes, Definition & Examples | ProSafeCon

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