Hazardous substances and dangerous goods

Prior to the implementation of the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations, workplace storage, handling and use of hazardous chemicals were regulated in most jurisdictions under separate instruments for hazardous substances and for dangerous goods. 

The new WHS Regulations cover workplace hazardous substances and dangerous goods under a single framework for hazardous chemicals and introduce a new hazard classification and hazard communication system based on the United Nations’ Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

Transitional arrangements are in place to ensure a smooth transition to the new classification, SDS and labelling requirements. 

What are hazardous substances?

Hazardous substances are those that, following worker exposure, can have an adverse effect on health. Examples of hazardous substances include poisons, substances that cause burns or skin and eye irritation, and substances that may cause cancer. Many hazardous substances are also classified as dangerous goods.

A substance is deemed to be a hazardous substance if it meets the classification criteria specified in the Approved Criteria for Classifying Hazardous Substances [NOHSC:1008(2004] (Approved Criteria).

Substances that have been classified according to the Approved Criteria are provided in the online database called the Hazardous Substances Information System (HSIS).

Note: the HSIS database is not a comprehensive source of classification information for workplace substances. If a substance is not included on the HSIS database, it does not necessarily mean that the substance is not hazardous. HSIS is updated periodically when new classification information is available from certain sources, namely from the European Union, Australia’s National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), and the Department of Health and Ageing’s Office of Chemical Safety and Environmental Health.

What are Dangerous Goods?

Dangerous goods are substances, mixtures or articles that, because of their physical, chemical (physicochemical) or acute toxicity properties, present an immediate hazard to people, property or the environment. Types of substances classified as dangerous goods include explosives, flammable liquids and gases, corrosives, chemically reactive or acutely (highly) toxic substances.

The criteria used to determine whether substances are classified as dangerous goods are contained in the Australian Code for the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail (ADG Code). The ADG Code contains a list of substances classified as dangerous goods. 

State and territory workplace dangerous goods storage and handling laws also capture combustible liquids. The criteria for classifying combustible liquids are contained in Australian Standard AS1940 (The Storage and Handling of Flammable and Combustible Liquids).

Many dangerous goods are also classed as hazardous substances.


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Questions should be emailed to info@swa.gov.au.

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