Hazardous Materials, often abbreviated as HAZMAT, are dangerous substances that pose a risk to humans, property and the environment.
They include substances that are explosive, corrosive, toxic, biohazardous, flammable, pathogenic, and radioactive and exist as solids, liquids and gases or a combination of all three physical conditions. Substances such as fuel, nuclear waste, batteries, sulphuric acid and chlorine are all classified as HAZMATs.
The danger posed by HAZMATs
These materials can pose a considerable safety risk if not handled properly and that is why hazardous material training is important. Exposure or spills of these have caused health complications, injuries and even death in human and animals and have damaged buildings, property, ecosystems and the environment at large.
HAZMATs are often released into the environment due to accidents (such as oil spills or nuclear plant disasters) or natural disasters(such as volcanic eruptions), and apart from posing a threat to living beings and the environment.
Therefore, hazardous materials management training in industries that deal with these substances are essential to ensure the safety of the environment.
Classification of Hazardous materials
Hazardous materials are classified into various categories based on their nature and degree of hazard, and usually using a universal, global system. This type of categorization is essential to ensure safety as it provides for uniformity in classification on a worldwide level.
Hazardous materials are categorized using identification codes, which are of two types: number codes and colour codes. Number codes specify the degree of hazard of a material; for example, the number 0 indicates the lowest hazard degree while the number 4 indicates the highest hazard degree.
Colour codes indicate the nature of a material; for instance, white indicates special hazards; blue indicates health hazards and red indicates fire hazards. Each hazardous usually has a symbol that represents its nature for easier identification.
Handling of Hazardous Materials
To mitigate the risk associated with hazardous materials, numerous safety precautions are applied during their transport, use, storage and disposal. These safety precautions are usually regulated by domestic law and are also subject to international treaties, regulations and classification systems.
People who handle these materials usually wear protective gear, called Hazmat suits, to protect them from exposure to these materials. Those who come into contact with these materials must undergo routine health check-ups and monitoring to ensure that they are not exposed to these materials beyond the accepted occupational exposure limits.
The Need for Regulation
The use of hazardous materials by industries, scientific institutes and even households has increased exponentially in the last few years. They are regularly transported, by land, sea and air.
HAZMATs are used daily in homes for heating and cleaning, by industries to produce raw materials, in manufacturing and so on and therefore are a significant part of the economy. However, their use is dangerous as an accident can cause widespread damage to life, property and the environment.
Therefore, the government, usually through the Department of Transportation, regulates the transport of these materials. Every company involved in the handling and transport of these goods must comply with the regulations laid out by the government.
Hazmat Material Training
For these companies to handle these materials safely and securely, employees are required by law to undergo hazmat material training, which is usually outsourced to a company that specializes in such training. The Department of Transportation requires anyone who handles, transports, moves, works with and responds to emergencies that occur during transportation and handling of these goods to have a hazardous materials certification.
In addition to general awareness/familiarization training for handling, use and transportation of the materials, employees are taught to identify and respond to incidents to protect the safety of others and themselves through safety and security training, and some might require function-specific training courses. Only when employees receive such certification will they be allowed to handle and transport hazardous materials.
Hazardous Materials Regulations Requirements
Apart from training programmes for their employees, companies must abide by the regulations that stipulate physical safety precautions. The Hazardous Material Regulations require companies to follow specific packaging and handling requirements for the materials. The use of appropriate labels, marking and other proper documentation is necessary for the safe transport and handling of goods. Employees are also required to be trained to respond to emergencies and be provided with appropriate gear and manuals to do so.
Hazardous materials are being increasingly used in the contemporary world at an exponential rate, and being dangerous to life, property and the environment, require proper safety regulations for its use and transport. This is done by compulsory training and certification for people who handle these substances, and a universal and uniform system of classification of dangerous materials.