Mexico Officially Adopts GHS — Bringing North America into Greater Alignment

This month, Mexico announced that it has made GHS alignment mandatory beginning in 2018. The official announcement, published in the Official Journal of the Federation of Mexico, states that during the three-year phase-in period, older standards can continue to be used. Mexico based its alignment on Revision 5 (Rev. 5) of the GHS, first published by the United Nations in 2013. (The United States aligned to Rev. 3, published in 2009. Canada aligned its chemical standard, WHMIS, to Rev. 5, but included amendments and dispensations to ensure greater harmony with the U.S. HazCom Standard.)

The final deadline for full GHS adoption in Mexico is October 8, 2018, afterwhich, GHS alignment will be the law of the land throughout North America.

In 2011, Mexico became the first North American country to publish GHS rules and guidelines when it issued standard NMX-R-019-SCFI-2011. However, while this standard made GHS one of the legally acceptable systems for labeling hazardous chemicals and producing safety data sheets (SDSs), it did not make GHS alignment mandatory. According to the U.N., it made GHS “an alternate means to comply with the provisions of Chapters 7 and 8 of the mandatory standard NOM-018-STPS-2000,” Mexico’s other safety regulation covering hazardous chemicals.

So, what does this new mandatory adoption of GHS mean for manufacturers, importers, and end-users of chemicals?

For starters, Mexico’s adoption of the Rev. 5 means there are likely to be conflicts between Mexico’s adoption of GHS and the United States’ adoption — though it is possible the U.S. will itself align to a later version of GHS in the near future. In the meantime, as previously noted on this blog, U.S. companies should proceed with caution. OSHA has warned U.S. companies that aligning their HazCom activities to a different version of GHS, rather than the criteria set out in the recently revised HazCom Standard (aligned with Rev. 3) could result in violations. For example, OSHA said a label element for aerosols aligned to Rev. 4 of the GHS could result in noncompliance here in the U.S. because of conflicting pictogram requirements. Will Mexico issue amendments to their adoption to create harmony with the U.S., as Canada did? We’ll have to wait and see.

Again, OSHA has strongly hinted that in the future it intends to realign to new versions of GHS on a regular basis. The U.N. is currently on Rev. 6 of GHS, which was released this year. While OSHA has been tight-lipped about when exactly it intends to adopt a new revision, and the agency is not yet through is initial GHS adoption, there’s a good chance that by the time GHS becomes law in Mexico, the U.S. may itself have moved on to the fifth or sixth revision, eliminating potential instances of disharmony we now see coming down the road.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, Mexico’s adoption will certainly bring more harmony to chemical safety in North America than has ever existed before. However, industry watchers will still need to keep an eye on OSHA and the U.N. for further developments.

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