Will GHS affect WHMIS?

GHS stands for the “Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals.” GHS is a system that defines and classifies the hazards of chemical products, and communicates heath and safety information on labels and material safety data sheets (called Safety Data Sheets, or SDSs, in GHS).  The goal of GHS is to have a universal set of rules for classifying hazards, using the same format and content for labels and safety data sheets (SDS) worldwide.

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is Canada’s national hazard communication standard.  WHMIS has a complicated implementation, a multi-angled approach coordinated through federal, provincial and territorial legislation. The key elements of the WHMIS system are:

  1. cautionary labelling of containers of WHMIS “controlled products”
  2. the provision of material safety data sheets (MSDSs)
  3. worker education and training programs

Overall, the current roles and responsibilities for suppliers, employers and workers likely will not change in WHMIS after GHS, but there will be some changes.

GHS changes to WHMIS. How chemicals are classified will be affected.  It’s likely that WHMIS legislation will:

  1. adopt all of the major GHS health and physical hazard classes including aspiration hazard and specific target organ toxicity-single exposure. Some sub-categories in GHS may not be adopted. It is unlikely that the environmental hazard classes will be adopted under WHMIS (but this does not exclude that it may be adopted by another government department)
  2. continue to include some hazards that are currently not in the GHS system, but are present in the current WHMIS system – such as biohazardous materials
  3. have more specific names for its hazard classes
  4. combine two WHMIS classes (teratogenicity/embryotoxicity and reproductive toxicity) into one new GHS hazard class called reproductive toxicity

What won’t change in WHMIS under GHS. Suppliers, importers and producers duties will continue to include:

  1.     classifying hazardous products
  2.     preparing labels and SDSs
  3.     providing these elements to customers

Employers must continue to:

  1.     educate and train workers on the hazards and safe use of products
  2.     ensure that hazardous materials are properly labelled
  3.     prepare workplace labels and SDSs as necessary
  4.     provide access for workers to up-to-date SDSs
  5.     ensure appropriate control measures are in place to protect the health and safety of workers

Workers will still:

  1.     participate in WHMIS and chemical safety training programs
  2.     take necessary steps to protect themselves and their coworkers
  3.     participate in identifying and controlling hazards

Hopefully this helps set you set up for GHS.  There are tools and solutions for GHS conversion, and here is a web site reference for all things WHMIS: http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/ghs.html.  You can contact me with specific issues.

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About Kal

Kal Kawar, CIH, PE, has a bachelor's in chemical engineering and a master's in industrial hygiene. His professional experience includes serving as staff industrial hygienist for IBM's New York semiconductor manufacturing facility, and as industrial hygienist for IBM’s US headquarters. Now executive vice president of Actio, Kal taps more than 20 years' worth of chemical engineering, industrial hygiene, and environmental engineering experience. His far-reaching expertise with global regulatory challenges created by EPA, TSCA, REACH, RoHS, WEEE – and hundreds of others – aid in developing Actio software solutions for MSDS management, raw material disclosure compliance, and product stewardship in a supply chain.