“Hazmat” is an abbreviation for hazardous materials. These materials are regulated by several different government agencies, which each have their own definition for what counts as a hazardous material:
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines a hazardous material as any substance that presents a physical or health hazard. These substances include corrosive chemicals, combustible or flammable materials, oxidizers, carcinogens, and toxic agents. OSHA regulates the handling of hazardous materials and the response to incidents involving them through HAZWOPER, their Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standard. In 2012, OSHA also officially aligned with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), which is the global standard for classifying, labeling, and transporting hazardous materials and which is the most widely adapted hazmat regulation.
The Environmental Protection Agency has adopted OSHA’s definition of hazmat, with the addition of any substance that can cause harm to people, plants, or animals when it is released. This release may be caused by actions such as the spilling, leaking, emitting, discharging, pouring, or dumping/disposing of harmful substances. The EPA has established specific guidelines for cleaning up and disposing of hazardous materials to ensure environmental protection.
The National Fire Protection Association’s main regulation concerning hazmat is a hazardous material identification system that aids emergency responders and helps them quickly determine which procedures to follow. The NFPA Fire Diamond is a visual representation of hazmat classification so responders understand in a glance whether the materials involved in a fire or other type of emergency present a health hazard, a fire hazard, have reactive properties, or concern special circumstances.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates materials that are considered to be hazardous because they produce ionizing radiation. This includes any substance that produces X-rays, alpha or beta particles, gamma rays, or neutrons. By-product material and radioactive substances are also included in this definition.
The Department of Transportation regulates the safe transport of hazardous materials and ensures standardized classification and labeling. DOT classifies hazmat as any items which are a risk to the environment or public safety when they are being transported or moved.
There are a wide variety of operations and industries that handle hazardous materials; many facilities must understand the definition of hazmat and adhere to applicable regulations. If you develop or manufacture products with dangerous substances, distribute or use these substances, or are required to properly clean up and dispose of hazardous waste, you should be familiar with the agencies above and their rules on handling, transporting, and disposing hazardous materials.
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