Dangerous or Hazardous? What's the difference?

Hazardous substances are classified based only on health effects (whether they are immediate or long term), while dangerous goods are classified according to their immediate physical or chemical effects, such as fire, explosion, corrosion and poisoning, affecting property, the environment or people.

"Hazardous Substances" have the potential to harm human health. They may be solids, liquids or gases; they may be pure substances or mixtures. When used in the workplace, these substances often produce vapours, fume, dusts and mists. There are many industrial, laboratory and agricultural chemicals which are classified as hazardous. Hazardous substances may cause immediate or long-term health effects. Exposure could result in:

  • poisoning;
  • irritation;
  • chemical burns;
  • sensitisation;
  • cancer;
  • birth defects; or
  • diseases of certain organs such as the skin, lungs, liver, kidneys and nervous system.

Dangerous goods are substances that may be corrosive, flammable, explosive, spontaneously combustible, toxic, oxidising, or water-reactive. These goods can be deadly and can seriously injure or kill people, damage property and the environment.  Numbers of dangerous substances are covered under the Dangerous Goods Act  1985 and the Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2012, as well as other regs covering transport of these substances. For more information, go to the Dangerous Goods (basics) information page on the WorkSafe website.

Hazardous substances and dangerous goods are covered by separate legislation, each focussing on controlling the different risks associated with them. Many hazardous substances are also classified as dangerous goods, so both pieces of legislation apply to these.

Hazardous substances are defined in the Regulations as being either listed on the Hazardous Substances Consolidated Lists (Alphabetical or according to CAS number) or fitting the description (meeting the criteria) of a hazardous substance according to the Approved Criteria for Classifying Hazardous Substances [NOHSC:1008(2004] 3rd Edition and/or have National Exposure Standards declared under the Adopted National Exposure Standards for Atmospheric Contaminants in the Occupational Environment [NOHSC:1003(1995)].

The lists can be accessed from the Hazardous Chemicals Information System (HCIS) website

To find out whether a substance is hazardous, check either the label or the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).

See Also

Last amended October 2018