Hazardous substances and dangerous goods

Your workplace may use hazardous substances and dangerous goods. Hazardous substances may be things you see every day such as paint, glue, cleaning liquid and powders.

Dangerous goods may be corrosive, flammable, explosive, spontaneously combustible, toxic, oxidising, or water-reactive. They must be identified in the workplace (and when being transported) by different coloured 'diamond' symbols.

Key point: A hazardous substance can be any substance, whether solid, liquid or gas, that may cause harm to your health.

Hazardous substances are classified on the basis of their potential health effects, whether acute (immediate) or chronic (long-term).

Dangerous goods are classified on the basis of immediate physical or chemical effects, such as fire, explosion, corrosion and poisoning. An accident involving dangerous goods could seriously damage property or the environment.

Harm to health may happen suddenly (acute), such as dizziness, nausea and itchy eyes or skin; or it may happen gradually over years (chronic), such as dermatitis or cancer. Some people can be more susceptible than others.

We use hazardous substances and dangerous goods almost every day of our lives. It may be antiseptic for a cut, paint for the walls, or a cleaning product for the bathroom. While they may seem harmless, even these ordinary things can make you very sick if they are not used properly.

Key point: It is the responsibility of your employer to provide you with safe work procedures for   handling hazardous substances and dangerous goods, and to provide information, training and supervision. First aid treatment for hazardous substances and dangerous goods should be part of your training.

Material safety data sheet

A material safety data sheet (MSDS) provides detailed information about a hazardous substance or dangerous good. It gives more information than you will find on a label. Manufacturers and suppliers of hazardous substances and dangerous goods are legally required to provide MSDS's to your employer if requested.

It is important that hazardous substances and dangerous goods in workplaces are used strictly according to the manufacturer's or supplier's written instructions. Any risk controls specified by the MSDS and the procedures developed by the workplace must also be closely followed.


  1. Follow safe work procedures
  2. Always wear the right personal protective equipment and clothing provided by your employer
  3. Do not eat, drink or smoke while working with a hazardous substance or dangerous goods
  4. Do not keep food or drink near the substances
  5. Wash your hands and face and other exposed areas with soap and water before going to the toilet, eating and drinking
  6. Read the MSDS before using any hazardous substance. If there is no MSDS, ask your employer or supervisor to obtain one


Students can complete the following Hazardous Substances and Dangerous Goods activities: