If you’re working around hazardous materials, then you’re likely quite familiar with the term HAZMAT.  Another term that is commonly used for these items is “dangerous goods.” Often times the terms is used for chemical substances, but the reality is that a HAZMAT item is any items that has the potential for causing harm to the body, is dangerous to handle, or may release fumes that are considered dangerous to life.

How can you tell if an item you use is considered to be a HAZMAT item? It will be classified as such if it meets specific criteria:

  • Items that are cancer-causing agents, are toxic agents, reproductive toxins, corrosives, irritants to the eyes, nose, or mucous membranes, nerve agents, or anything that may cause damage to the human body in some way, including breathing in fumes of a substance that could cause damage to the lungs;
  • Items that are liquids that will blow up, which may include: compressed gases, liquids that are flammable, explosives, solids that could catch on fire, peroxides, oxidizers, and any other item that is unstable or reacts negatively to water; and
  • Items that may produce or release gas, dust, fumes, vapor, mist, or smoke that cause irritation while in the course of normal handling and storage.

It’s not just the human body that creates a HAZMAT item. Even items that may be safe to humans, but are unsafe to the environment or animals, can be classified as a hazardous material.

HAZMAT Items Are Treated Differently 

If an item is classified as being HAZMAT, then it must be treated differently than other items. These special precautions are put into place to limit injuries to people or animals and to protect the environment. Should there be a spill of these items that are classified as hazardous materials, a special set of cleanup rules are immediately employed in order to contain the spill as quickly as possible.

So what kinds of materials are considered to be HAZMAT? Here’s just a few examples:

  • gasoline,
  • asbestos,
  • lead-acid batteries, and
  • dry ice.

If you encounter these items and they must be cleaned up, you should take special precautions to do so that include protecting your skin, eyes, and breathing passages. Many hazardous materials are harmful in a number of different ways and require a different type of treatment if you’re exposed to them. That’s why having MSDS on hand is crucial.

What Are MSDS? Why Do I Need To Have Them? 

MSDS stands for Material Safety Data Sheets. For a business, any time there is a substance on hand that could be hazardous in some way, a data sheet on that substance must be kept in a highly recognizable location so that immediate treatment can be given or obtained. These sheets contain information about the hazard, what the dangers to someone’s health are or a leak in the environment would cause, and how to successfully administer treatments or clean-up protocols. They are also required to have a contact number to get even more specifics about an item from the manufacturer.

Even if an item is considered to be a non-hazardous material, if it is used in a professional capacity, it will have a MSDS on it. Most businesses don’t actually have MSDS for all the items that are in the workplace. Many of these are directly available from the manufacturer of the product and are often shipped with the product itself. Websites have various MSDS available as well for a nominal fee if there are several missing from your binder.

Why worry about the MSDS? Because if you bring in a product into work to use, even if just from a personal standpoint, like a desk cleaner, then there must be an accompanying MSDS that you put into your company’s binder. There are large fines associated with missing sheets, even ones that involve products that are considered to be non-hazardous. This is often why the policies and procedures of a company state to not bring in person cleaning supplies.

What Else is HAZMAT?

Even though HAZMAT is a representation of hazardous materials, it also includes non-hazardous materials in its oversight. This is because of the nature of use that some materials have. Green cleaning products, for example, might be chemical free and even be non-toxic, but because they have a specific professional use [cleaning] and because there is the potential of an interaction [skin irritant] or an interaction with a hazardous item [bleach], these very safe items fall into the HAZMAT control area.

You won’t have any specific training on these substances beyond making sure to look at the MSDS to be aware of potential interactions or irritants that may cause damage. Did you know that even water falls into HAZMAT oversight at times because water can interact negatively with certain compounds? The same is true of even oxygen!

That’s why knowing what HAZMAT is becomes such an important part of any job. Almost every profession encounters a hazardous material in some way every day. A writer, for example, might use a cleaner on their laptop. A stay-at-home parent might utilize a toilet bowl cleaner with hydrochloric acid in it. An administrator might work with inks or toner that cause digestive distress if ingested. If you look around where you are, right now, there’s either a hazardous material near you or a product you’re using that was created with the use of a HAZMAT item.

Knowing how to recognize and then react to a HAZMAT item is critical to the safety of everyone and everything around. What is the best way to be able to do this? By obtaining your HAZMAT certification. If you’re ready to start the process of getting your certification, then you’re going to want to know how to pass the tests you’ll face. You’ll want to know what to study too!

Are you ready to enhance your career? Now that you know what HAZMAT is, it’s time to add this certification to your credentials. Find out more about HAZMAT certification here.