GHS, WHMIS, MSDS, and Labels – Health Canada Getting Serious – What You Need to Know

Canada has been moving slowly toward GHS adoption over the last decade and after missing a 2008 goal for implementation, there was seemingly no end in sight. In the last year, however, we’ve been seeing an uptick in activity around GHS from Canadian agencies and it looks like Health Canada is back on track for GHS alignment.

The best guess from many on the inside of the regulatory process is that the earliest GHS adoption could happen in Canada is 2012. There are a number of things that would need to fall in place, including sign off from several agencies with jurisdiction over GHS provisions like Health Canada, Environment Canada and Transport Canada as well as updates to the Hazardous Products Act. Health Canada alone must reconcile standards for consumer chemical products, pest control products and workplace chemicals.

In the last year, the WHMIS Current Issues Committee (CIC) finished its recommendations on GHS and the Consumer Product Safety Directorate (CPSD) created a new team to implement GHS. Some see this new team as a setback since they are tasked with reviewing the CIC’s report and its many recommendations which delays the drafting of a regulation. The most optimistic guesses put a draft regulation several months away.

Another perspective is that these developments signal just how close GHS adoption is. For instance, the items the new CPSD team is tasked with include reconciling very granular issues like whether labels under a revised WHMIS should continue to have the hatched border and if labels should continue to reference the SDS.

For its part the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has been actively trying to help employers and workers prepare with handouts, books, videos and presentations on GHS. In fact, for a nice, succinct introduction to GHS in Canada you can listen to the Health and Safety to Go Podcast’s interview with Lorraine Davison, Manager of Chemical Services at CCOHS.

Once GHS is finally adopted in Canada, businesses and employees covered under WHMIS will see big changes, including:

  • New Chemical Classifications
  • New Label Elements
  • New Hazard Symbols (Called Pictograms)
  • New MSDSs with 16 Part Format in standardized order
  • MSDS Name Change to Safety Data Sheets or SDSs

It’s important to note, that even with these changes, the revised WHMIS standard will still look very much like the old WHMIS standard in structure and performance. GHS will basically be folded into WHMIS so that WHMIS chemical classification and hazard communication vehicles are more in sync with the hazard systems of other countries.

With a year or two before a new law is in place, affected employers and employees have some time to prepare – still there are some key things businesses can do now to get ready and make sure the transition to GHS a smooth one.

For instance, every business should be paying attention to GHS. Now is a good time to get familiar with the principles of GHS and what WHMIS adoption will look like.

Chemical manufacturers should be preparing to reclassify chemicals and mixtures with GHS classification criteria. And end users should be getting ready for the SDS churn. Safety data sheets under GHS are called SDSs not MSDSs and they have a prescribed 16 section format. This means your entire MSDS library will need to be replaced with GHS compliant SDSs. Similarly, labels will look very different under GHS. If you use workplace labels, make sure you’re prepared to meet GHS compliance.

A good electronic online SDS management system can help with both SDSs and labels. If you’re not already managing your SDSs online, now might be a good time to consider an on-demand solution. If you’re currently using an electronic system or shopping around for a system, make sure it’s WHMIS-under-GHS compliant.

Finally, a key component of WHMIS compliance is employee training. Start planning your GHS training now to ensure employee safety during the transition period – once enacted, full compliance with GHS is expected to be required within two years.

Stay tuned to MSDSonline for the latest news on GHS adoption in Canada.