Dangerous Good (DG) items are defined as:
Articles or substances which are capable of posing a hazard to health, safety, property or the environment.
Short for “Dangerous Goods” – the term “DG” is used frequently in international transportation and storage.
The lowest temperature at which flammable liquid ignited in the atmosphere when exposed to a source of ignition.
Any article containing one or more explosive substances.
An enclosure used by a single shipper to contain one or more packages and to form one handling unit.
The outer protection of a composite or combination packaging together with any absorbent materials, cushioning and any other components necessary to contain and protect inner receptacles or inner packaging.
Any container or vestibule that contains pressurized liquids or gasses of any kind. Pressurized containers can be considered dangerous goods even when evacuated and empty.
UN Dangerous Goods Identification Number
Four-digit ID number that quickly identifies the specific dangerous good and any associated handling or special transportation needs.
Short for the United Nations “International Civil Aviation Organization”.
Short for “International Air Transport Association.”
Short for “Shippers Declaration of Dangerous Goods.” HazDecs are predefined declaration forms shippers must include when transporting DG items via air.
Short for “International Maritime Organization”
Short for “Dangerous Goods Declaration.” DGDs are predefined declaration forms shippers must include went transporting DG by sea.
Short for “Hazardous Material,” sometimes used in reference to DG.
Any substance that may react to other specific substances nearby, especially when exposed to air, when improperly stored, or when the required storage container is compromised. Reactive substances may cause rapid energetic reactions, or slow reactions. Many reactive substances react strongly to other specific substances, such as water or other chemicals, and must be handled accordingly.
Since 1956, the United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods has compiled, maintained and updated what are known as UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (UN Model Regulations Rev. 12, 2001). These official recommendations include suggested standards on categorization, labelling, and harmonized numbering of DG items for quick reference. These official recommendations are not binding - local regulations can choose to adopt, enhance or exclude regulations - and technically only pertain to transportation. Irrespective of the voluntary or specific nature of the guidelines, many international agencies of opted to adopt these standards and nomenclatures for daily use.
As part of the UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, the United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods maintains what is called a “Dangerous Goods List,” a consolidated and updated list of commonly transported DG items. The Dangerous Goods List serves as a quick reference tool for persons associated with the transport and handling of DG.
The overall types and number of DG handled by transporters and warehouse personnel can be vast. Different industries have a wide variety of material requirements, and suppliers and manufacturers tend to develop specialized expertise in specific areas of DG. Irrespective of the industry specifics, handlers of DG should have a general understanding of how to manage all potentially hazardous materials they may encounter.
When it comes to handling and managing DG, there are agreed upon categories of materials/substances that are commonly used between manufacturers and logistics providers, referred to by pre-defined corresponding classes. A table of these common categories and corresponding classes and sub divisions can be seen below.
1.1 Mass explosion hazard
1.2 Projection hazard but not a mass explosion hazard
1.3 Fire hazard and either a minor blast hazard or a minor projection hazard or both, but not a mass explosion hazard
1.4 No significant blast hazard
1.5 Insensitive explosives with a mass explosion hazard
1.6 Extremely insensitive articles which do not have a mass explosion hazard
2.1 Flammable gases
2.2 Non‐flammable, non‐toxic gases
2.3 Toxic gases
Other Flammable Substances
4.1 Flammable solids, self‐reactive substances and solid desensitized explosives
4.2 Substances liable to spontaneous combustion
4.3 Substances which in contact with water emit flammable gases
Oxidizing Substances and Organic Peroxides
5.1 Oxidizing substances
5.2 Organic peroxides
Toxic (Poisonous) Substances
6.1 Toxic substances
6.2 Infectious substances
Miscellaneous Hazardous Materials
Some hazard classes – such as radioactive materials – may be extremely rare for most humanitarian organizations – but most humanitarian response organizations will handle a variety of different DG items throughout the course of their supply chains.
Some DG items occupy more than one hazard class, having what is known as a “subsidiary hazard class” – the secondary (or more) set of hazards that might define the DG item. As an example, an explosive substance may also be toxic, or a gas may also be corrosive. The leading primary hazard classes and subsidiary hazard classes are identifiable by referencing the substance in the Dangerous Goods List.
Contained within the Dangerous Goods List is a consolidated numbering system for the rapid classification of dangerous goods. This list is sometimes referred to as the UN Dangerous Goods Identification Number, Dangerous Goods Classification Number, or Sometimes just the UN Number.
This DG number is universal across multiple modes of transport, and consists of four digits.
Calcium hypochlorite mixture, dry, corrosive with more than 10% but not more than 39% available chlorine
UN ID Number
Understanding and utilizing UN DG numbers is extremely important for anyone planning on procuring, transporting and storing any substance that might be considered dangerous goods. DG numbers are extremely specific to material or chemical composition, and referencing a DG number across the Dangerous Goods List will quickly inform handlers of labelling requirements, packing instructions and limits for different forms of transport, hazard class, special handling needs, and if there are potential secondary hazards such as reacting to other substances.
To enhance the safe handling and transport of goods, users must correctly and accurately identify the UN DG Number. UN DG Numbers can be found on the Dangerous Goods List in the first column next to the corresponding DG item. The UN DG number is extremely specific, and many DG items with similar sounding names might have different ID numbers. When determining the ID number, users must use the accurate, full name of the DG item, and may even need to denote the percentages of its chemical composition or even the size of its packaging.
Transporters will rely on this information for the process of properly securing and handling loads, especially air transporters who may be adversely impacted by DG items. If the UN DG Number is unknown, or isn’t readily available, persons involved with the transportation or storage of DG items should not make up a number nor search in the inappropriate places. Wherever possible, logistics personnel should consult with manufactures, properly certified persons, or transport providers to properly identify the correct numbers.
In the context of DG handling, labelling refers to the proper placement of pre-defined labels on the carton, canister, or other form of packaging or overpacking that dangerous good or hazardous items are stored and transported in. The labelling of DG is absolutely essential for air transport, however DG container should be labelled at all points throughout the supply chain, including warehousing and all other forms of transportation.
UN ID Number – Cartons or containers used for transporting DG items should clearly indicate the correct corresponding UN ID number.
Hazard Class Labelling – Containers of DG of any kind should he clearly labelled with the corresponding hazard class label. Hazard class labels should not be smaller than 10 cm along the edge. If a container has more than one DG hazard class, each hazard class must be indicated on the outside. Containers with DG that have one or more subsidiary hazard class must also be clearly labelled each subsidiary hazard class on the outside.
Example Hazard Class Labels:
Handling Labels – Handling labels should be used in conjunction with hazard class labels, but provide specific information specific to the DG that cannot be ascertained from the hazard class alone. This might include package orientation, special handling needs, or special considerations.
Example Handling Labels:
Note: the example labels serve as a guide only. Hazard labels have variations to express even more information, and there are even a wider set of handling labels. Both label types are routinely reviewed and updated by international regulatory bodies. For the most up to date set of labels, please coordinate with a properly certified person or transporter.
A placard is a physical sign that denotes a large physical structure that either contains or transports one or more containers of DG items. Physical structures might include:
A placard functions much like a carton label – it denotes the hazard class and specific attributes of the DG contained within vehicle or structure.
The use of placards is not universally regulated nor is it universally enforced, especially as it pertains to use inside of individual countries of operation. Many countries heavily regulate the use of placards on locations that store DG items, or on vehicles that transport DG items, while other countries have limited to no regulation, especially in humanitarian contexts. Persons or organizations operating in any country should understand local regulations surrounding placard usage, and should utilize the appropriate placard where available.
Vehicles or multi-modal containers that may cross international boundaries may be required by one or both countries to properly place placards on vehicles or containers, while any containers that may be loaded onto aircraft will almost certainly require placards of some kind. Shipping containers that contain DG that frequently are transhipped between various ports are usually required to have some form of placarding as well, commensurate with port and private regulations.
In contexts where placard use is not regulated or enforced, humanitarian agencies should endeavor to still place placards where safe and appropriate. There is no one accepted guidance on placard usage, but as a general rule, any time the cumulative aggregate weight of DG on any one vehicle exceeds 500 kg, then vehicles should be properly marked. Additionally, long term storage locations containing DG should also be clearly placarded.
Irrespective of form of transport, there are certain DG considerations all shippers including humanitarian agencies should be aware of.
Though there is wide consensus on how to handle and process DG cargo, not all standards across all modes of transport are the same. The overall size or type of packaging for a DG item may vary depending on the vessel. As an example, a container of Calcium Hypochlorite (HTH) might be allowable up to 20 kg per container for a seaborne vessel while only allowed up to 5 kg for an airborne vessel. Additionally, there are different declaration and labelling standards for different modes of transport. Humanitarian supply chain planners should think through their entire supply chain needs when deciding what DG to procure and how to properly package and label it, taking multiple modes of transport into account.
The legal requirements for compliance with DG regulations vary greatly across operational contexts – commercial aviation will have strict regulations while field level operations may have no discernible regulations at all. Humanitarian actors must still know what DG items they intend to handle, and know how to handle them. As DG items are stored and transported they will need to be properly labelled, packaged, identified on packing lists/manifests and have the appropriate accompanying declaration documentation. In highly regulated contexts, any failure to identify or properly classify a DG item can result in fines, cargo being rejected or impounded, or contractual penalties. Serious incidents resulting from mislabelled or misidentified DC can result in series legal penalties or jail time.
Certification in DG Handling/Shipping
Private industries – such as international aviation and maritime associations – and some national or local regulatory bodies rely on specially trained persons or third-party experts to properly identify and manage the labelling, handling and transport requirements for DG. A properly DG certified person will have undergone specific trainings from relevant accredited bodies, and may have to undergo recertification every year. The different levels and types of certification relate to the nature of the DG activity (air, sea, road, etc) and to the overarching bodies that govern the type of activity. Where possible, humanitarian agencies should work with accredited transport companies, forwarders, and local government authorities. Regulations in many parts of the world require certified persons to review DG items before they can even be loaded onto a vessel in the first place.
As an example, DG shipped using international commercial air transport must be managed by a person certified through an IATA recognized DG training program; the properly IATA DG certified person is ultimately responsible for signing all DG related declarations. Any person who is not certified to manage air transport of DG should not be certifying DG cargo, and failure to comply can result in penalties. Different regulatory bodies may require different forms of certification, and national and local laws may require DC certification for warehousing, sea and road transport supervision as well.
Humanitarian agencies may not have the capacity to employ full time personnel with all required certifications, but third-party logistics companies often can and do have properly certified persons on call who will work with agencies to properly document and certify DG cargo. To facilitate this process, humanitarian agencies may seek as much information on DG related products as possible. Manufacturers and vendors in more developed industries can supply DG related information, including:
Safety Data Sheets
Many suppliers should be able to provide what is known as a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) / Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) / Product Safety Data Sheet (PSDS) – product specification sheets that can inform commercial handlers and transporters of any DG related properties to assist the transport process. Many transporters – especially air transporters – will ask for SDS/MSDS/PSDS to be submitted along with other documentation.
Out of all methods of cargo transport, air transport is by far the most sensitive to proper DG labelling and handling. Operating and maintaining an aircraft at altitude is already a dangerous task, and small problems that might arise from any DG item being mishandled can be amplified to catastrophic proportions very quickly.
The majority of commercially operated aircraft take guidance from both the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
IATA - IATA is an international consortium of governments and private sector operators that helps define mutually recognized regulations and standards for international transportation of goods and persons, including regulations relating to the transportation of dangerous goods. Many national civil aviation authorities follow IATA guidelines, and virtually all international air operators and international airports follow IATA standards.
ICAO - ICAO is a specialized UN agency that supports the development of mutually recognized civil aviation standards among UN member states, including air safety regulations.
ICAO and IATA collaborate closely on the development and provision of DG regulations which are considered industry standards. IATA publishes the “Dangerous Goods Regulations” (DGR) while ICAO publishes “Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air,” both of which are updated on an ongoing basis. These regulations don’t just designate labelling and handling, but also denote quantity limitations, specialized packaging requirements for air transport, what cargo may not travel on passenger aircraft, and restrict some DG items altogether.
Virtually all commercial and private flights that operate internationally must comply with IATA and ICAO standards, including those standards relating to DG. Commercial shippers, manufacturers, suppliers, airports and ground handling companies should understand these regulations, and have a shared common understanding of how DG should be transported by air. Aircraft that operate in domestic airspace and do not cross an international border are beholden to that country’s civil aviation authority (CAA). Domestic CAAs have the autonomy to operate and regulate aviation activity within their own airspace as they see fit, however most CAAs align their standards closely with both ICAO and IATA. Furthermore, a common adoption of international DG standards makes it easier for pilots and crew to operate multiple countries when required.
DG transported by air will be highly scrutinized by airports, CAA authorities, aircraft operators, crew and insurance companies. The ultimate determining factor of what can or cannot be loaded onto an aircraft is the loadmaster, crew and pilot, who will follow local and international standards, and assess what they feel as safe. Loaders will still expect DG cargo to be properly packaged and declared, that SDS/MSDS/PSDS are provided and DG marked on packing lists, and that persons or organizations who plan to ship DG items by air should identify and work with companies and logistics providers who are fully certified and authorized to manage, label and handle DG items.
The “Shippers Declaration of Hazardous Goods” (HazDec) is a standard, industry wide excepted form for properly declaring dangerous goods as they are loaded onto an aircraft. HazDecs should be submitted with regular paperwork – such as a packing list – as well as being stored alongside the DG cargo itself. Air operators, airports, ground handling crews and insurance underwriters rely on HazDecs to quickly identify all potential hazards and understand how to assess incoming consignments. Consequently, the person filling out and signing a HazDec should be properly certified by an ICAO or IATA accredited certification program in DG. Many air operators in developed contexts will only accept HazDecs from certified persons. Falsely declared or improper certification on a HazDec can lead to serious penalties.
Sea transport also some sensitives pertaining to the transport of DG. Though not as strict as aviation, seaborne cargo comes with is own special restrictions and considerations, as well as its own handling needs. Additionally, the majority of seaborne cargo by nature moves between different ports in different countries, necessitating a strong common international standard.
As it pertains to DG, seaborne vessels take their guidance from the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The IMO is a United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships. The IMO produces what is called the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. The IMDG Code specifically outlines the storage, handling, labelling and placarding of DG cargo on vessels.
The vast majority of sea cargo utilized by humanitarian agencies will be transported using multi-modal shipping containers, or perhaps large oversized cargo such as vehicles. It is unlikely that humanitarian agencies will be responsible for sealing their own containers or be present for vessel loading; to ensure DG is properly handled they must work with a knowledgeable and certified person or company who can advise on the proper packing and labelling of cargo, and who will be responsible for ensuring containers contain the appropriate placards. Humanitarian agencies shipping goods will still be expected to provide as much information as possible, including identifying UN DG Identification Numbers, specifying DG on packing lists, SDS/MSDS/PSDS and supplying supporting documentation.
The IMO “Declaration of Dangerous Goods” (DGD) is a standard, industry wide excepted form for properly declaring dangerous goods as they are loaded onto a seaborne vessel. DGDs should be submitted with regular paperwork – such as a packing list – as well as being stored alongside the DG cargo itself. DGDs may not be the only dangerous goods declaration forms used by transporters – some shipping lines maintain their own DG declaration standards, especially if they operate using domestic inland waterways. Irrespective of the form used, DGDs must be filled out and signed by someone who is fully authorized and certified to do so.
There is no globally recognized standard for the proper method for the surface transport of DG items. National and local regulations vary greatly, and the contexts in which humanitarian organizations may respond might have virtually no regulation whatsoever. Humanitarian organizations should endeavour to maintain minimum safety standards for road transport of DG, and remain in compliance with any regulations that may pertain to the geographic areas of response.
Packaging, Labelling and Identification – to whatever extend possible, DG items transported by road should have proper labels on cartons/containers, an be fully disclosed on shipping documents such as packing lists and waybills. As a rule of thumb, DG labelling and packing should be at least equal to the requirements for sea shipping, however local regulations may strictly indicate these requirements as well. Packaging should not be compromised, and transporters – especially third party transporters – should be made well aware of the contents of their vehicles.
Placards and Vehicle Requirements
Many national and local regulations strictly regulate the placement of placards on surface vehicles that transport DG. These regulations relate not only to the placement of markings, but also to the types/volumes/quantities of DG items, times of day and locations of operation, and even may require special training from drivers or special ratings for vehicles. Humanitarian agencies planning to operate in any context should research and understand these regulations where required. Failure to do so can mean required volumes of items not being able to be delivered, transhipped, or not being able to be transported by regular means altogether.
Humanitarian agencies may own or operate their own vehicles, or may take a full responsibility in loading, securing and even driving vehicles laden with DG. Even without official regulation, there are several steps agencies should follow:
The proper storage and warehousing procedures for DG items – while extremely important – do not have a well-defined international standard like transportation of DG does. This largely stems from the fact warehouses themselves will almost never operate between two different sovereign territories. As a result, the proper storage of DG in a warehousing context is often regulated by national and local authorities; sometimes regulation is heavy, and sometimes regulation is almost non-existent.
Humanitarian organizations operating in any context should both understand the proper methods of storing DG, and should maintain and enforce internal policies. Additionally, any agency specific warehousing DG procedures should also comply with the prevailing national or local laws regarding DG management.
The scope and specifics of DG handling requirements depend on the activities of the agency in question, including the types of intervention activities and the sheer volume of DG items required.
DG in warehouses should always be marked and accounted for. Cartons should always have the appropriate markings, and where necessary DG items might even require signs or marking denoting their location inside the warehouse or storage facility. Depending on the local regulations, warehouses with sufficient quantities of DG may be required to be properly marked or placarded on the outside.
All DG items should be clearly visible and clearly accessible. DG items that give off fumes, are considered combustible, corrosive, oxidizing or toxic should be properly sealed and properly ventilated. DG items in containers that display distress or compromise must be removed, repacked, or secured in the appropriate manner. If at al avoidable, DG items of different types should not be stored next to each other in a warehouse, and ideally should be stored in separate structures.
Warehouse staff should be informed of which items are DG, and be instructed on the proper threats and handling procedures associated with them. Humanitarian agencies should never expect casual or local labour to understand or respect the concerns surrounding DG, and safety should be of paramount concern.
Toxic or Corrosive Compounds – Compounds considered poisonous or toxic to humans can range across many DG items. Toxic substances should be well sealed and well-marked. If required, they should be stored in a separate location, and only handled using the appropriate protective gear. Items like refillable lead acid batteries may appear inert, but can cause harm to warehouse workers.
Explosive Compounds – While relatively unusual for humanitarian response, agencies can and do handle explosive compounds without realizing it. As an example, chemical based fertilizes can be extremely explosive when intermixed with other substances. Explosive compounds should be clearly identified and segregated from the remaining cargo items. If possible, explosive compound should be stored in an entirely separate storage area, ideally someplace not commonly accessed by persons. Explosive compounds should not be exposed to excessive heat, open flames, or other reactive compounds for any period of time.
Oxidizing Compounds – Corrosive compounds that may be common in humanitarian response included medical grade cleaning compounds or household cleaning supplies. Oxidizing compounds react with metals nearby, and can cause violent reactions with fuels and other combustible materials. Though warehouses may take steps to prevent violent reactions with combustible compounds, warehouse workers may not notice the slowly forming impact of oxidization on other things in the warehouse. Oxidizing compounds will slowly degrade shelving, racks, and warehouse super structures increasing risk of serious injury to warehouse workers, as well as impacting any metal objects stored near it. Storage facilities that keep oxidizing compounds may end up damaging the objects immediately around the substance over a long period of time without noticing it.
Bio-hazards – Bio-hazardous substances such as medical waste or live biological samples should be handled by trained personnel only! Bio-hazardous materials should be properly sealed, and stored in separate secure areas, and at the required temperatures if any exist.
Pressurized Containers – It is strongly advised that pressurized containers of any size are not stored in a warehouse for any period of time. Flammable compressed gas should be handled in a separate storage area all together, while non-flammable compressed gas should ideally be stored temporarily, or not at all. If compressed gas or other pressured containers must be stored for any period of time, they should be stored at the ground level and properly braced to avoid falling or rupturing. If pressurized containers have valves or nozzles that are exposed, they should be safely and securely covered to avoid rupturing or becoming damaged in movement. Pressurized containers should not be exposed to excessive heat above the normal room temperature range – even inert or non-flammable compressed compounds can violently rupture harming nearby persons.
Fuel – Fuel products are extremely common in field bases humanitarian response, including:
Stored fuel is usually accessed frequently, and is equally frequently exposed to the open air. General tips for storage of fuel include:
Fuel by nature is both highly combustible, and highly reactive. Fuel should not come into contact with or be stored near any other volatile or reactive chemicals, such as nitrogen-based fertilizers or chlorine based compounds. Natural gas contained in compressed cylinders should be properly secured to avoid falling or damage.
Additionally, fuel should not be exposed to open flames, sparks or excessive heat sources, including any form of welding or electrical work nearby. Employees should refrain from smoking near the area, and no smoking signs should be clearly visible. Different fuel compounds have different flash points – the temperature at which they are combustible. Note that gasoline (petrol) has a significantly lower flash point, meaning it can be ignited in negative temperatures. Other compounds vary based on things such as air temperature and ventilation. The minimum flashpoint of each compound can be referenced below, and must be respected at all times.
Minimum Flash Point
Jet Fuel (A/A-1)
Possible UN IDs
Sealed lead acid
3028, 2800, 3090
Refillable lead acid
Live infectious substances
HTH Calcium Hypochrloite
1748, 2208, 2880
Alcohol bases hand sanitizer
Chlorine based cleaning solutions
A-1 jet fuel
Mechanical Equipment and Fluids
3166, 3171, 1202, 2800, 3528
3356, 3166, 1744
Building Related materials
 ICAO Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air, 2019-2020 Edition, 1-3-2