Using liquids in unlabelled containers

WorkSafe is issuing a safety alert about the hazards associated with decanting dangerous goods into unlabelled containers.
Safety alert published

Tuesday 01 Dec 2020

Industries and topics
  • Dangerous goods
  • Hazardous substances

Please note the Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Amendment (Notification) Regulations 2021 come into effect on 1 July 2021 (Amended Notification Regulations).

This information has not yet been updated to reflect the changes introduced by the Amended Notification Regulations. Complying with the guidance after 1 July 2021 may not necessarily mean compliance with a duty under the Amended Notification Regulations. Information on the Dangerous Goods Act 1985 and associated regulations can be found on:


Two employees suffered serious burns when they attempted to extinguish a machine fire with liquid from an unmarked container. The employees mistakenly thought the liquid in the container was water when it was actually a flammable liquid.

Safety issues

Chemicals can be dangerous goods, hazardous substances or both.

Dangerous goods are:

  • flammable
  • combustible
  • corrosive
  • explosive
  • toxic
  • oxidising
  • water-reactive
  • have other hazardous properties

Dangerous goods can cause:

  • explosions
  • fires
  • serious injury
  • death
  • large-scale damage

Hazardous substances are substances that have the potential to harm human health.

Liquids stored in unlabelled containers pose serious risks to health and safety as the appearance of chemicals can easily be mistaken for other non-dangerous liquids, such as water.

Labels are required to identify:

  • the contents of a container
  • precautions for use
  • safe storage and handling

Recommended ways to control risks

Where employees are required to transfer chemicals into containers, an employer has a duty to ensure that:

  • hazards associated with the storage and handling of chemicals have been identified and controlled
  • employees are appropriately trained
  • safety data sheets (SDS) are current and accessible
  • all containers are appropriately and clearly marked and labelled, to include:
    • name of contents
    • dangerous goods class and subsidiary risk (if applicable), or the hazard pictogram, hazard statement (if applicable). If this is not possible, a means of clearly identifying the chemical.

Written, stick-on or painted labels are acceptable for labelling containers, as long as they are legible and durable.

Chemicals should never be stored in food or drink containers, even when labelled.

Legal duties

The Code of Practice for storage and handling of dangerous goods and the Compliance Code for hazardous substances provides practical information on how to comply with the following laws: