No matter which sector your company operates in, the safety of your employees is paramount.

Fostering a proactive approach to health and safety is a fairly all-encompassing task and covers everything from strong workplace inductions to emergency response training and everything in between. It might also involve investing in key health and safety infrastructure such as fire extinguishers, dangerous goods storage cabinets and more.

If your organisation deals with dangerous goods and/or hazardous substances, it’s vital that you have a good understanding of what these terms mean and the subtle yet important differences between the two.



What are Hazardous Substances?


Hazardous substances are classified on the basis of their health effects. If the proper steps are not taken to contain the risks associated with hazardous substances, they may have a negative health impact (both short and long term) on those working with the material. It’s important to note that hazardous substances can come in many forms; gases, liquids and solids may all be considered ‘hazardous substances’ if they have the potential to harm a person’s health. Hazardous substances are used in a variety of industries and are most commonly found in Australia’s agricultural, industrial and construction sectors.


As Safe Work Australia noted, there are a number of things you can do to reduce some of the risks associated with hazardous substances. This might include:


  • Identifying potential hazards
  • Taking steps to minimise the risks associated with said hazards
  • Reviewing safety protocols every five years
  • Correctly labelling containers and pipework
  • Keeping exposure to hazardous substances to a safe level


…and much more.


What are dangerous goods?


While dangerous goods also pose a risk to your workforce, where they differ from hazardous substances is that they can have an immediate physical and/or chemical effect on people and the surrounding environment. According to WorkSafe Victoria, dangerous goods are typically flammable, corrosive, explosive, toxic, spontaneously combustible, oxidising or water-reactive.

As with hazardous substances, dangerous goods are frequently used in many different industries. Some of the more common forms of dangerous goods include:

  • Petrol
  • LPG
  • Paint
  • Pesticide
  • Acids


What’s the difference between the two?

As noted, the key difference between dangerous goods and hazardous substances lies in the classification criteria. Hazardous substances are categorised according to the health effects they have on people and are covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007.

In contrast, dangerous goods are classified by the presence of immediate danger due to physical or chemical effects and are covered by the Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2012.


Interestingly, some substances are classified as both as hazardous substances and dangerous goods. In this scenario, you’ll need to ensure you’re complying with both sets of laws in order to protect the health and safety of employees. There is some overlap, however, and meeting the requirements of one set of regulations can be enough to comply with some (but not all) of the required duties of the other.