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In the shipping world, dangerous goods are defined as anything that needs to be handled with care and could cause harm to people handling them in transit. The most dangerous goods are defined by IATA the International Air Transportation Association with regulations to air travel.

How are dangerous goods transported? Find out more about dangerous goods transport and dangerous goods transport companies here…

The definition of dangerous goods

According to IATA (International Air Transportation Association), dangerous goods are those that may put the lives of people on board an aircraft in danger, or risk the safety of the aircraft itself. Dangerous goods the IATA recognise are also known as restricted articles, hazardous materials, and dangerous cargo.

Classified dangerous goods are categorised in different classes, and these listings include but aren’t limited to:

  • Class 1: Explosives including fireworks, ammunition, and airbag inflators
  • Class 2: Gases such as aerosols, propane cylinders, and fire extinguishers
  • Class 3: Flammable liquids that cover paints, alcohols, and lacquers
  • Class 4: Flammable solids, spontaneous combustibles, and materials that are dangerous when wet comprising of matches, sodium batteries, and carbon
  • Class 5: Oxidisers like pool chlorine, ammonium nitrate fertilisers, and hydrogen peroxide
  • Class 6: Toxic or infectious substances incorporating pesticides, dyes, and medical waste
  • Class 7: Radioactive materials containing uranium, density gauges, and medical treatment products
  • Class 8: Corrosives such as batteries, iodine, acids, and acid solutions
  • Class 9: Miscellaneous covering first aid kits, dry ice, and internal combustion engines

Identifying dangerous goods

When you’re planning to send dangerous goods, you’ll need to identify them properly to ensure that they travel by a safe method – this will be mainly by ground. You also need to ensure that couriers will accept delivery, and if you’re importing or exporting goods that these goods aren’t banned within certain countries.

Couriers will provide a list of dangerous items that they won’t deliver due to regulations, so you’ll be aware of goods that you can’t transport by air. An alternative will be surface freight which although cheaper, takes a lot longer for deliveries to be made. Bear in mind you need to comply with the law when shipping any dangerous goods.

The Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR dangerous goods) sets out the requirements for the classification, packaging, labelling, and certification of these goods via European Agreement regulations. Dangerous goods transport companies such as DHL have many years of experience in carrying dangerous goods and comply with all IATA and ADR regulations.

Packing dangerous goods

Packaging must be designed to withstand being dropped, held in a stack, or placed under pressure, and be certified as suitable for contents – pre-approved packing is readily available. Packing goods with care ensures that the goods will be protected during transit and arrive undamaged. Wrapping goods in plastic and using packing material to fill any empty spaces will keep the goods secure.

Marking and labelling of dangerous goods

All dangerous goods must be correctly labelled with the appropriate hazard symbols. There are three packing groups corresponding to the level of danger and these are:

  • Packing Group I – Great Danger – indicated by the letter X in shipping codes
  • Packing Group II – Medium Danger – indicated by the letter Y in shipping codes
  • Packing Group III – Minor Danger – indicated by the letter Z in shipping codes

The labels for differing classes have designated signage covering colour-coding, warning placards and directional indicators, as well as any additional relevant information.

Getting the right documentation

Any dangerous goods must be accompanied by identifying paperwork knows as a Dangerous Goods Declaration. This is the key to ensuring your shipment gets to its destination on time. Most couriers will expect a completed expanded international air waybill if you’re transporting internationally. For air cargo, the IATA Shipper’s Declaration of Dangerous Goods documentation must be used.

Shipping requirements vary dependant on the mode of transport. Transport of dangerous goods by road in Spain for example is regulated with reference to application containers, packaging, and vehicles used in the actual transportation. New rules cover the training of staff, technical specifications for vehicles, inspection, certification, and responsibilities are all clarified with a system of penalties for breaking the law.

The International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) provide guidance for transporting dangerous goods by sea detailing requirements for particular types of goods, and specific training needs for handlers. If you’re using a combination of transportation relevant instructions for each mode will need to be followed at every stage.

This essential step will need to be undertaken whether you’re shipping by air, ground, or sea, as it declares that the details of the shipment are compliant with all national or international requirements.


When it comes to the movement of goods many of the regulations apply to all parties including the shipper, manufacturers, carriers, warehouse workers, and freight forwarders. The shipper is responsible for ensuring dangerous goods are classified, packed, and labelled correctly and all appropriate documentation completed. Not following these rules can result in prosecution.