Health Canada has released an overview of proposed amendments that will introduce the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) into Canada. These amendments are intended to align the Workplace Hazardous Materials System (WHMIS) with the United States version of the GHS, known as Hazcom 2012 in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). The announcement can be found on Health Canada’s website, at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/consult/_2013/ghs-sgh/amendments-modifications-eng.php.
In this overview, considered a “prepublication” (that is, not officially published in the Canada Gazette at this point), Health Canada lays out the major areas in that will change. Note that these changes may require amendments to a number of regulations, such as the Controlled Product Regulations (CPR), the Consumer Chemicals and Containers Regulations (CCCR), the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act and Regulations (HMIRA and HMIRR), and the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR).
The current Controlled Products Regulations will be replaced with a new regulation called the Hazardous Products Regulations, or HPR. These will continue to cover workplace chemicals; presumably, GHS will not be extended to consumer products until the CCCR are amended as appropriate.
The major areas where changes will occur are:
- Classification of hazardous products;
- Labelling of hazardous products;
- Preparation of Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), previously known as Material Safety Data Sheets;
- Exemptions (full or partial) from the regulations.
In general, it appears Health Canada is attempting to keep the classification system consistent with OSHA. However, there are a number of differences noted, such as:
- OSHA has a group of hazards known as “Hazards Not Otherwise Classified”, or HNOCs. There is no set definition of this term, which is used to capture hazards that are apparent in the use of a product, but not covered by the GHS system. Health Canada comments “[t]he criminal law framework of Canadian legislation and regulations for workplace hazardous chemicals does not provide the latitude to require the classification of a substance without specifying the criteria by which a supplier must determine whether the substance is classified.” Therefore, Health Canada will have to provide a specific definition in the regulations as to what a HNOC really is.
- GHS and Hazcom 2012 do not cover Biohazardous Infectious Substances, as covered currently in the CPR. However, Health Canada has decided to maintain them as a type of health hazard in the HPR.
2. Labelling of Hazardous Products
Health Canada proposes to align the HPR with OSHA’s Hazcom 2012 with regards to label requirements in most areas.
Differences will appear for the following:
- Carcinogenicity – as opposed to Hazcom 2012, carcinogens in all categories will have to be identified (and a label warning given) at concentrations of 0.1% or higher.
- Physical and Health Hazards Not Otherwise Specified – Since these are considered to be serious workplace hazards, Health Canada has assigned specific pictograms and statements for these, as well as the signal word “DANGER”.
- Biohazardous Infectious Materials – the CPR will maintain the current WHMIS symbol (the biohazard symbol in a black circle), with the signal word “DANGER” and assigned warning phrases.
Information on the label will still have to be provided in both French and English, according to the Official Languages Act.
The requirement to label fully even very small containers has already caused concern in the US under Hazcom 2012, due to the difficulties in printing and attaching labels to such containers. Health Canada proposes to include a provision that, for containers less than 100 millilitres in volume, precautionary statements may be omitted.
3. Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)
Health Canada proposes adopting the 16-heading GHS format for Safety Data Sheets, replacing the current 9-heading format in the CPR. As in Hazcom 2012, sections 12 to 15 (which cover environmental and other regulations not directly controlled by Health Canada) will be optional and not enforced.
Some important provisions are:
- Biohazards will have their own specific format, covered by an appendix to the HPR.
- SDSs will still have to be provided, as requested by the user, in both official languages.
- SDSs will not have to be updated on a fixed 3-year schedule; however, they must be accurate “at the time of sale or import”.
Due to the necessity of harmonizing with GHS and Hazcom 2012, Health Canada explains “some of the current exemptions [in the CPR] would be removed, some would be retained without modification (other than amendments required as a consequence of other amendments), some would be retained with modification, and a few new exemptions would be created….”
Significant changes proposed include:
- Elimination of the specific exemption for flavours and fragrances.
- The exemption for a generic SDS would be removed, but Health Canada says “it would be allowed by policy”.
- The current labelling exemption for “bulk products” would be extended to products sold without packaging of any sort, since labelling information will now automatically be included on the SDS.
- The exemptions for confidential business information, as provided by the HMIRA and HMIRR, will be kept.
- Specific exemptions for radioactive and biohazardous materials will be provided.
- Exemptions for laboratory samples will now include the concept of “bailed” product – that is, “a product in relation to which there is a transfer of possession but not ownership; for example a laboratory sample sent for analysis or a product provided to a third party for processing.”
These changes will usher in a new era of WHMIS in Canada. As we have seen in the United States, there may be many unforeseen complications when switching systems so completely. Therefore, Health Canada has requested stakeholders to provide early comments and input as soon as possible. The deadline for these comments on the “prepublication” version is September 15, 2013; of course, further comments may be made upon publication in Canada Gazette I.
Comments and questions for Health Canada should be directed to:
Workplace Hazardous Materials Directorate, Health Canada
427 Laurier Avenue West, 7th Floor
If you have any questions regarding these proposed changes, or the Globally Harmonized System in general, please contact ICC Compliance Center
1-888-442-9628 (USA) or 1-888-977-4834 (Canada).