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What you need to know about handling hazardous substances

In contrast to conventional transport tasks, the in-house transport of hazardous substances harbors an increased risk potential. There is not only a risk of physical health hazards from manual lifting of heavy loads or the typical tripping, slipping and falling accidents. In addition, there is also a not inconsiderable risk of damaging the cargo in the event of an accident. As a result, hazardous substances can escape in an uncontrolled manner and have devastating effects.

In our FAQs you will find out what you should know about the internal transport of hazardous substances.

What risks might you encounter when handling hazardous substances?

When a container isn't handled correctly or becomes damaged during handling, you risk an uncontrolled spill. If the container is storing hazardous substances, this spill will have a variety of potential consequences for both workers and the environment. These can include:

  • Substances classified as dangerous for the environment can make areas uninhabitable when they come into contact with soil or surrounding waters.

  • Many substances are harmful through direct contact, inhalation and ingestion.

  • Flammable substances have the potential to create a dangerous explosive environment.

You can find more information about the hazardous substances located on your company's premises inside the company's safety data sheets (SDS). Employers have a duty to ensure that substances are appropriately labelled and able to be easily identified by employees.

Here are a few examples of hazard symbol labels:

It is worth noting that larger containers create greater risks. If hazardous substances are being transported in large, heavy containers - such as steel drums - then manual transport will result in a high level of physical strain and an increased risk of injury to the employee, alongside an increased risk of spillage.

Weiterhin ist, wie bei herkömmlichen Transportaufgaben auch, das Thema Ergonomie zu beachten: Befinden sich die Gefahrstoffe in großen, schweren Gebinden wie zum Beispiel Fässern, bedeutet der manuelle Transport eine hohe körperliche Belastung sowie erhöhte Verletzungsgefahr für den Mitarbeiter.

What is the difference between dangerous goods and hazardous substances – and which laws apply?

The terms "dangerous goods" and "hazardous substances" are commonly used interchangeably in almost every industry, but it's important to know that they are not the same thing. From their definition and classification through to their regulation, everything about them is significantly different.

Dangerous goods are substances that when transported pose a risk to any of the following: Health, safety, property or the environment. Anyone planning on transporting dangerous goods in a public area must take a close look at the legal provisions surrounding these substances. You can find this within The European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR). The ADR explicitly considers the hazard level of a substance in connection with their transportation in public spaces.

Dangerous goods laws give rise to special regulations, such as special labelling requirements, the use of packaging with special transport approval and the need for vehicle drivers to receive special training.

Certain dangerous goods that pose a risk even when not being transported are typically referred to as hazardous materials (also known as HAZMAT or hazmat). Under the European Union's 2008 CLP Regulation, hazardous substances placed on the market must be correctly classified, labelled, packaged and handled.

In the UK, hazardous substances are further controlled by the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR), which requires employers to protect workers and members of the public from any risk of harm as a result of hazardous substances used or present in the workplace. From June 2015, DSEAR also covers gases under pressure and substances that are corrosive to metals.

Another UK law that governs the control of hazardous substances is the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH, 2002). COSHH applies to virtually all substances hazardous to health, with the exception of asbestos and lead (which have their own regulations) and substances that are hazardous only because they are radioactive, asphyxiants, at high pressure/temperature or have explosive/flammable properties.

COSHH legislation requires:

  • Identifying health hazards

  • Identifying how to prevent harm to health (through a risk assessment)

  • Providing control measures to reduce harm to health

  • Making sure control measures are used

  • Keeping control measures in good working order

  • Providing information, instruction and training for employees and others

  • Providing monitoring and health surveillance

  • Planning for emergencies

Employers have a legal requirement to carry out a risk assessment, both under COSHH legislation and within The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 - so it’s important that you have one in place!

Do employers have to provide equipment for employees when handling hazardous substances?

The short answer is yes. As laid out in Section 7 of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH, 2002), employers in the UK are required to provide employees working with hazardous materials with "suitable work equipment." This can include drum handling equipment, equipment for the management of spills and floods and transport equipment for gas cylinders. Section 7 also covers the need to provide employees with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

COSHH 2002, s 7(3)(a) "The design and use of appropriate work processes, systems and engineering controls and the provision and use of suitable work equipment and materials."

COSHH 2002, s 7(3)(c) "Where adequate control of exposure cannot be achieved by other means, the provision of suitable personal protective equipment in addition to the measures required by sub-paragraphs (a) and (b)."


Good to know: From 2015-16, according to statistics from the UK Health and Safety Executive, work-related musculoskeletal disorders accounted for 34% of all work days lost to ill health in Britain. The safe transport of hazardous substances is not only important from a legal point of view, it also helps to prevent worker ill health from impacting on productivity.

Can any employee work with hazardous materials?

Not unless you've carried out a risk assessment. Under section 6 of COSHH 2002, employers must carry out a risk assessment prior to employees performing tasks involving hazardous substances. Employees must be informed of the properties of any hazardous substances, any potential hazards they create and what protective measures need to be taken, especially with regard to the handling of hazardous substances.

Employers are required to carry out risk assessments "regularly." An exact legal time frame isn't specified, but it's necessary to perform one after any significant changes to a process, such as bringing in new machinery, changing chemical formulas, changes in worker exposure times, and so on. If there have been no significant changes, it's good practise to carry out a new risk assesment every 3-5 years.

According to the legislation, employees must be properly informed, trained and supervised at all times. Having HSE safety data sheets on file is not sufficient to comply with COSHH requirements.

Employees working with hazardous materials should be given the following information:

  • The name of any hazardous substance they come in contact with

  • The associated risks with these substances

  • Any precautions needed to protect themselves and other employees

  • How to use the personal protective equipment (PPE)

  • Any workplace exposure limits

  • The results of any exposure monitoring and health surveillance

  • Emergency procedures

We are happy to advise you!

Whether on the phone, via e-mail or in person at your premises - we are happy to help and advise you. Get in touch with us.

Free expert advice 01952 811 991

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The specialist information on this page has been compiled carefully and to the best of our knowledge and belief. Nevertheless, DENIOS Ltd cannot assume any warranty or liability of any kind, whether in contract, tort or otherwise, for the topicality, completeness and correctness either towards the reader or towards third parties. The use of the information and content for your own or third party purposes is therefore at your own risk. In any case, please observe the locally and currently applicable legislation.

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