Shipping Dangerous Goods Internationally


If you transport dangerous goods by air, sea, road, rail or inland waterway, you must pack and transport them according to international regulations.

The UN Model Regulations put the rules on the different transportation methods into a classification system. This system assigns each dangerous substance or article a class that defines the type of danger the substance presents. The packing group (PG) then further classifies the level of danger according to PG I, PG II or PG III.

Together, class and PG dictate how you must package, label and carry dangerous goods, including inner and outer packaging, the suitability of packaging materials, and the marks and label they must bear.

Other regulations define the training and qualifications that dangerous goods drivers and safety advisors must hold, and when you must use one.

This guide brings together the various requirements for moving dangerous goods.

The classification of dangerous goods

The carriage of dangerous goods by road, rail, inland waterway, sea and air is regulated internationally.

If you’re involved in the processing, packing or transporting of dangerous goods, you will first need to classify them correctly so that all organisations in the supply chain, including the emergency authorities, know and understand exactly what the hazard is.

Dangerous goods are assigned to different classes depending on their predominant hazard. The UN classifies dangerous goods in the following classes and, where applicable, divisions:

UN Class Dangerous GoodsDivision(s) if applicableClassification
1Explosive Explosives 1.1 – 1.6Explosive
2Gas bottles Gases2.1Flammable gas
  2.2Non-flammable, non-toxic gas
  2.3Toxic gas
3Flammable liquidFlammable liquid Flammable liquid
4Flammable solidsFlammable solids4.1Flammable solid
  4.2Spontaneously combustible substance
  4.3Substance which emits flammable gas in contact with water
5Oxidizers and organic peroxides Oxidizers and organic peroxides5.1Oxidising substance
  5.2Organic peroxide
6Toxic and infectious substances Toxic and infectious substances6.1Toxic substance
  6.2Infectious substance
7Radioactive materialRadioactive material Radioactive material
8Corrosive substancesCorrosive substances Corrosive substance
9Miscellaneous dangerous substancesMiscellaneous dangerous substances Miscellaneous dangerous substances

The consignor – the person or business shipping the goods – is responsible for classifying, marking and packaging the dangerous goods.

Dangerous goods safety advisers qualifications and training

Businesses that handle, process or transport dangerous goods on a regular basis must appoint a Dangerous Goods Safety Adviser (DGSA

You don’t need to appoint a DGSA if:

  • you transport smaller quantities of dangerous goods than those in the legislation
  • you occasionally transport, load or unload dangerous goods, but it isn’t your main or secondary activities

The DGSA’s duties and responsibilities include:

  • monitoring compliance with rules governing transport of dangerous goods
  • advising their business on the transport of dangerous goods
  • preparing an annual report to management on the business’ activities in the transport of dangerous goods
  • monitoring procedures and safety measures
  • investigating and compiling reports on any accidents or emergencies
  • advising on the potential security aspects of transport

These regulations can apply to anyone who allows dangerous goods to be carried, not just the transport operator. This could include cargo consignors, freight forwarders, warehouse workers and manufacturers producing goods that will be collected from their factory.

International carriage of dangerous goods by road

Regulation is via the European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR).

ADR sets out the requirements for the classification, packaging, labelling and certification of dangerous goods. It also includes specific vehicle and tank requirements and other operational requirements. 

Carriage by rail

The carriage of dangerous goods by rail is governed by Appendix C of the Convention Covering International Carriage by Rail – International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Rail. 

Transport by inland waterway

In the European Union, the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Inland Navigation (ADN) came into force on 28 February 2009. ADN only applies in the UK in relation to the training and examination system for safety advisers and the connected issuing and renewal of vocational training certificates. It does not apply to the carriage of dangerous goods by inland waterways in the UK given that there is no physical connection between them and European inland waterways.

Transport by sea

The International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) code provides guidance on transporting dangerous goods by sea. Find information about the IMDG code on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) website.

The IMDG code is used by operators transporting dangerous goods on journeys involving a sea crossing. This includes ferry services.

Transport by air

The International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Technical Instructions are an internationally agreed set of provisions governing the requirements for transporting dangerous goods by air. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) publishes the Dangerous Goods Regulations in accordance with the ICAO technical instructions.

Dangerous goods training is a mandatory requirement for anyone involved in the transport of dangerous goods by air. 

Find out about dangerous goods and safety worldwide on the IATA website.

Some airlines and countries have their own derogations, known as State and Operator Variations. You should check in the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations for more information.


Documentation when moving dangerous goods

When dangerous goods are transported, the consignment must be accompanied by a transport document declaring the description and nature of the goods. Documentation must be in accordance with the specifications set by the dangerous goods regulations applicable to the chosen mode of transport.

The transport document must be completed by the consignor (the person or firm from whom the goods have been received for transport). Legislation contains an example of a multimodal dangerous goods transport document and describes occasions when the document may not be required, for example for limited quantities.

To move air cargo that is classified as dangerous, a dedicated air transport document such as the IATA Shipper’s Declaration of Dangerous Goods must be used.

You can read about the movement of air cargo that is classified as dangerous or hazardous on the IATA website. You can also find Shipper’s Declaration forms on the IATA website.