Start now to prepare for GHS

Aug 06, 2013

Toxic symbolAs Canada transitions from the national Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) - sometime in 2015 - workplaces will likely have a one-year period to realign their existing WHMIS program and training.

“Providing workers with comprehensive, actionable information on hazardous materials can help your business reduce the cost of avoidable losses, insurance, lost-time injuries, fines, and penalties,” says Susan Ing, an occupational hygiene specialist with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS). “You could boost your bottom line through reduced injuries, higher productivity and improved health and safety performance.”

The sooner your business understands what changes are coming and begins preparing a transition strategy, the smoother the process will be. Read on to learn more.

What you need to know

Ing advises that businesses with workers who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals keep these five considerations in mind:

  1. WHMIS’s nationally-coordinated approach has helped Canadian businesses avoid duplication, inefficiency through loss of scale, and interprovincial trade barriers that would have been created if each province and territory had established its own hazard communication system. GHS will do the same, but on a global rather than national scale.

  2. GHS applies the same approach as WHMIS. However, it introduces new classification rules, label requirements and formats for safety data sheets (SDS).

  3. The changes will not alter current responsibilities under WHMIS for suppliers, employers and workers. This means businesses will be able to use their existing WHMIS processes to comply with GHS.

  4. Businesses are expected to continue meeting their existing WHMIS requirements until GHS comes into force. Exact dates are not available at this point, but expect a one-year transition period possibly starting in 2015. During the transition, businesses will be required to continue training workers on WHMIS as needed and prepare workers for GHS.

  5. Workplace Safety & Prevention Services and other prevention system partners are developing resources to help businesses transition from WHMIS to GHS as simply, effectively and painlessly as possible.

What WHMIS and GHS are

WHMIS is a Canada-wide classification system that establishes specific duties for suppliers, employers and workers regarding the control, handling, storage, and disposal of “controlled” products in the workplace. GHS is an international classification system. “Think of it as a more comprehensive WHMIS,” says Ing.

WHMIS and GHS ensure workers understand the hazards posed by chemicals they work with and other essential information. This is

  • an essential component of a workplace health and safety system
  • a key means of engaging employees and sustaining business operations. Healthy, knowledgeable and productive workers mean less risk of production downtime
  • a legal requirement under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act and the federal Controlled Products Regulations.

How GHS will benefit workplaces

Transitioning from a national to a global system offers many benefits to workplaces, such as

  • increasing worker protection by adopting a globally recognized standard for communicating hazards associated with workplace chemicals
  • lowering costs for businesses and consumers by reducing the need for re-testing and re-classifying chemicals from or for different markets
  • facilitating international trade through common labelling and other hazard communication requirements.

What’s changing

WHMIS requirements will be amended to incorporate new GHS criteria for hazard classification and requirements for SDSs and labels. The means for effecting change involves replacing the Controlled Products Regulations with new Hazardous Products Regulations.

These changes will not alter current responsibilities under WHMIS for suppliers, employers and workers. Employers would continue to

  • educate and train workers on the hazards and safe use of products in the workplace
  • ensure that hazardous materials are properly labelled
  • prepare workplace labels and SDSs (as necessary)
  • provide workers with access to up-to-date SDSs
  • ensure appropriate control measures are in place to protect the health and safety of workers.

Workers would still

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

Suppliers, importers and producers would continue to

  • classify hazardous products
  • prepare labels and SDSs, and provide them to customers.

When the changes will take place

Health Canada aims to have updated laws in force by June 2015. However, businesses may now or will soon be seeing GHS labels and SDSs for hazardous products sold, distributed, or imported into Canada from countries already GHS compliant. Without advance preparation, businesses risk confusing employees who will be exposed to these new labels and SDSs. With confusion comes a greater risk of injury, loss and disruption.

How to prepare your workplace

Susan Ing offers these suggestions on how to get started.

  1. Continue meeting the requirements of Ontario’s Regulation 860, Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). Businesses are expected to meet all WHMIS requirements until the GHS requirements come into force.

  2. Assign responsibility for implementing GHS in your workplace to a qualified person, possibly the person who coordinates the annual review of your WHMIS program and any required WHMIS training.

  3. Keep informed of the progress of GHS adoption in Canada and any other countries you do business in. Start with online information available from Health Canada, and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). See also “How WSPS can help.”

  4. Reduce your supply of chemicals having non-updated SDS and GHS compliant labelling. As you do so, ensure your inventory of every hazardous material stays up to date.

  5. Learn about GHS substance level classifications for products, mixtures.

  6. Determine what impact the new classifications will have. For example, some chemicals now exempt under WHMIS may be covered by GHS, and the classification of other chemicals may change.

  7. Develop a plan for new SDSs and labels.

  8. Develop a GHS training plan. Workers will require training on both systems until the transition is complete.

  9. Regularly inform workers and supervisors of your transition strategy and its status.

How WSPS can help

Workplace Safety & Prevention Services is about to launch a 2-hour onsite GHS awareness session that can help jump-start your transition to GHS by raising basic awareness of the changing requirements, implications for workplaces, and possible next steps. Watch for more information in upcoming issues of WSPS Network News or WSPS Network Magazine.

WSPS has extensive WHMIS resources and consulting expertise to help businesses comply with all aspects of WHMIS:

  • compiling and maintaining an inventory of every hazardous material in your workplace
  • creating a system for assembling information on each of the hazardous materials
  • interpreting and using MSDSs
  • providing training that prepares your workers to recognize and safely work with hazardous materials.

Here are examples of available resources:

  • compliance checklist
  • inventory form
  • public training courses (half-day)
  • e-courses (1 hour), many also available in French, for
    • managers and supervisors
    • workers
    • office environments
    • understanding MSDSs
    • the U.S. HazCom system, which has adopted GHS
  • refresher e-courses
  • DVD-based self-study program for workers
  • WHMIS train-the-trainer course

All e-courses include an overview of GHS.

Additional Reading