Last reviewed 12 November 2021

In this feature, Caroline Raine discusses some recent road accidents involving dangerous goods and gives tips to prevent them from happening.

Accidents and incidents

In 2017, a serious spillage of hydrochloric acid from a tanker on the M6 closed the road for hours causing disruption to commuters and businesses. In August 2019 the A4 was closed following a large fuel spillage whilst in October last year a lorry carrying chemicals caught fire on the A1, closing the road and causing disruption.

As a result of these potential dangers, chemicals are heavily regulated and drivers need to receive specialist training before they can transport dangerous goods. There are also strict requirements over the marking, packaging and labelling of dangerous goods.

Alongside the disruption caused to commuters, such chemical spills can also damage roads requiring often very costly repairs. Fortunately, no recent incidents have resulted in any harm or death caused to drivers or responders but the environmental impacts can also be significant. Fires send toxic plumes into the air and liquid spills can make their way into local water courses destroying wildlife and attracting heavy penalties.

As an indication of the penalties involved, in April 2018, Severn Trent Water was fined £350,000 and ordered to pay Environment Agency costs of £68,003 because of a chemical spill in the River Amber which resulted in an estimated 30,000 dead fish and 5km of damaged ecology.

Tips for preventing accidents

Getting it right is key to ensuring that accidents don’t happen and, if they do, being prepared will help to minimise the consequences. Equipment, documentation and training are all key to getting it right when transporting dangerous goods.

Equipment needed

The Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR) specifies the equipment that should be carried on board a vehicle carrying dangerous goods.

Chapter 8.1 outlines the general requirements concerning transport units and equipment on board, and the ADR Instructions in Writing (IiW) lists the equipment needed (in Chapter 5.4). The list includes:

  • a wheel chock

  • two self-standing warning signs

  • eye-rinsing liquid.

For each crew member:

  • a warning vest

  • a portable light

  • protective gloves

  • eye protection.

Also, required for certain classes:

  • an emergency escape mask (for each crew member)

  • a shovel

  • a drain seal

  • a collecting container.

The ADR also specifies the requirement to carry fire extinguishers, the number and size of which is dependent on the transport unit size.

Documentation required

There is a legal requirement to carry both a transport document and IiW.

The transport document is specific to the load being carried and should contain:

  • the name and address of consignor

  • the name and address of consignee

  • a dangerous goods description for each dangerous substance

  • the number and description of the type of packages for each dangerous substance

  • material or article in the consignment

  • the total quantity of each type of dangerous goods with a different UN number, proper shipping name or packing group.

For loads being carried under the ADR small load exemption ( the calculation must be shown on the transport document.

For each dangerous substance, material or article in the consignment, a dangerous goods description must be provided. This consists of several pieces of information, which must be listed in the Dangerous Goods Note (DGN) in the following order.

  • UN number — preceded by the letters “UN”.

  • Proper shipping name — including the technical name (if applicable).

  • The label numbers – as listed in column 5 of the dangerous goods list in the ADR.


It is the label numbers that are required, not the class number listed in column 2. The primary hazard class should also be listed first, followed by any applicable secondary hazard classes in brackets.

  • Packing group (if applicable) — in roman numerals. This may be preceded by the initials “PG” or the equivalent initials in the language in which the DGN is being prepared.

  • Tunnel restriction code — as listed in column 15 of the dangerous goods list in the ADR. This should be listed in capital letters within brackets. The tunnel code can be omitted if it is known that the consignment will not have to pass through any tunnels.

The IiW is a generic document that can be found in Chapter 5.4 of the ADR. It is a four-page document that can be used as an aid in the event of an emergency situation. The document must be carried in the vehicle crew’s cab and must be readily available.

There is also a requirement to have an emergency response telephone number on the vehicle placards.

Staff training

All staff involved in any way with the transport of dangerous goods must receive training appropriate to their responsibilities and duties prior to such involvement.

The training must cover a range of topics:

  • General awareness training – training to make personnel familiar with the general requirements of the provisions for the carriage of dangerous goods of the mode(s) concerned.

  • Function-specific training – detailed training relevant to their duties and responsibilities concerning the carriage of dangerous goods.

  • Safety training – commensurate with the degree of risk of injury, training on the hazards and dangers presented by the goods and emergency response procedures.

Drivers of vehicles carrying dangerous goods are subject to specific training requirements and drivers must receive adequate training and instruction to enable them to understand:

  • The nature of the dangers of the goods and actions to be taken in an emergency.

  • Duties under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 and, where relevant, duties under the applicable carriage regulations.

Drivers of tanker and bulk vehicles, and vehicles carrying packaged goods above the ADR load threshold, must attend a course approved by the Department for Transport (DfT) and pass written examinations set by the Scottish Qualifications Authority to obtain a vocational training certificate (ADR certificate) valid for the classes of goods carried in packages or tanks.

Points to remember

The transport of dangerous goods is heavily regulated. Make sure that your company doesn’t face a fine or prosecution by ensuring that the regulations are followed. Pay particular attention to the detail of fire extinguishers, training, transport documents and equipment.

In the event of a spillage take action to minimise the consequences and seek help immediately. If there is any doubt about your responsibilities, speak to your Dangerous Goods Safety Adviser (DGSA).