How Do You Safely Transport Chemicals?

Safely Transport Chemicals

If you need to safely transport chemicals, it’s vital to be aware of the international directives and regulations that must be followed, the hazards of chemical transportation (and how to avoid them), and best practices for moving chemicals both on and off-site.

The transport of hazardous substances brings significant financial, environmental, and health-related risks, so it’s imperative that a robust legislative infrastructure is in place to reduce the risk of accidents occurring while such substances are being transported.

The International directives and regulations below govern the carriage of dangerous goods by road, rail, sea, and air:

  • Transportation of dangerous goods by road is regulated by a European agreement known as the ADR.
  • International transport of hazardous substances by rail is governed by Appendix C of the Convention Covering International Carriage by Rail. Within the U.K. the applicable legislative framework comes from The Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2009.
  • The International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) code covers transportation of dangerous goods by sea.
  • The International Air Transport Association (IATA) publishes a set of Dangerous Goods Regulations based on a set of internationally agreed provisions known as the ICAO Technical Instructions.

Knowing the regulatory frameworks that apply to the carriage of dangerous goods is a start, but it’s not enough. You need to know the precise hazards associated with chemical transportation both on-site and off-site, and you need to incorporate some best practices for chemical transport that can reduce the risk of a chemical incident.

The Hazards of Chemical Transportation

There are several possible hazards that can result from accidents involving chemical transportation, and the  UN classifies dangerous goods based on the prime threats that they pose. The following list covers the nine broad classifications of hazards:

  • Explosives—naturally, such substances pose the threat of explosion when in transport
  • Gases—dangerous gases can either be flammable and cause a fire or toxic and cause poisoning
  • Flammable liquids—such liquids can easily catch fire, damaging buildings, the environment, or causing injuries/fatalities
  • Flammable solids—aside from certain solids being flammable, some solids can spontaneously combust, while others can form a flammable gas when in contact with water
  • Oxidizing substances—oxidizing chemicals can speed up the development of a fire, make a fire more intense, or cause combustible materials to burn spontaneously without the presence of an obvious ignition source
  • Toxic substances—such chemicals are split into both toxic chemicals and infectious chemicals
  • Radioactive materials—spillage of such substances can cause enormous damage to ecosystems and people
  • Corrosive substances—corrosive materials present health hazards by burning the skin and eyes, or damaging the respiratory tract

Chemical Transport On-Site Best Practices

Perhaps the more common and routine form of chemical transportation occurs when moving chemicals from room to room or between buildings on the same site, such as a university campus or factory site. Even though it might seem like the chances of an accident are slim over such short distances, special precautions must be taken to avoid an accident. Some best practices for the transport of hazardous substances on-site are:

  • Always use secondary containment by placing bottle, jars, or other chemical containers in a tray or other carrier when moving chemicals on-site.
  • Don’t carry trays containing hazardous chemicals by hand—use appropriate equipment, such as laboratory carts.
  • Never place incompatible chemicals together in the same container during transport—you need to prevent unwanted reactions in the event of a leak or spill.
  • Bring a spill management kit with you when transporting hazardous goods for a rapid response to any accident.
  • Never attempt to clean up a spill without assistance if you are unsure what to do, you feel it is unsafe, or you don’t know what materials have been spilled.
  • Anyone involved in the transportation of hazardous goods on-site should wear appropriate PPE for the chemicals they are transporting.

External Chemical Transport Best Practices

Chemical transport of dangerous substances externally arguably presents a bigger risk of larger scale incidents than on-site chemical transport because the quantities of chemicals transported externally are often much larger. Some best practices for external chemical transport include:

  • Always carry an appropriate spill kit—it’s particularly important to use spill kits appropriate for the chemicals being carried.
  • Hazmat kits are used for corrosive acids, solvents and other ‘aggressive’ chemicals. Universal spill kits are for spills containing either water or hydrocarbon chemicals. Oil-only kits are specifically for oil.
  • Ensure you appropriately segregate mixed classes of hazardous substances to avoid the risk of a reaction while they are in transport.
  • Fully secure hazardous substances on the vehicle or other mode of transport so that they can’t move or fall.
  • Always classify chemicals according to their hazards as designated by the UN so you can select appropriate packaging for all goods being transported.
  • Only hire competent and registered carriers to transport hazardous substances for both domestic and international transport. Written evidence of competency should be obtained from the transport company beforehand prior to carriage.
  • Appropriately label all packaging with the appropriate diamond shaped transport hazard label.

To recap, the transportation of hazardous goods poses significant threats to people and the environment in the form of explosions, fires, toxic leaks, radioactive spills, and the inhalation of corrosive substances. Such threats make safe chemical transportation an issue of paramount importance, regardless of whether the chemicals are being transported between laboratories or between countries.

Incorporating best practices both for on-site and external chemical transport can dramatically reduce the risk of chemicals incidents causing damage. Particularly important is using the right chemical containers.


This article was originally published on Safety Storage Systems.