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The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)

March 2014

Government of Canada Tables Legislation to Improve Labelling and Classification of Workplace Chemicals - Proposed changes deliver on key Regulatory Cooperation Council initiative

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) is a standardized, internationally consistent approach to classifying chemicals according to their physical, health and environmental hazards. The GHS covers all hazardous chemical substances and mixtures, and communicates hazard information through labels and safety data sheets.

Why is Canada implementing the GHS?

Implementation of the GHS worldwide would facilitate international trade and enhance workplace safety by providing workers with standardized and consistent information on chemical hazards.

The implementation of the GHS would deliver on a key initiative announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the United States President Barack Obama as part of the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council's Joint Action Plan. Canada has committed to implementing the GHS by June 1, 2015.  Further, Canada and the U.S. will continue to cooperate on an ongoing basis to align and synchronize updates to the GHS system for workplace chemicals.

How would the GHS enhance workplace safety?

The GHS would improve how information on hazardous products is communicated, by implementing changes to the current Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).

For example:

  • the standardized hazard symbols, signal words and hazard statements are expected to improve the communication of hazard information;
  • the GHS identifies hazards not addressed under the current system; and,
  • more detailed information on hazardous products would be provided to employees and employers.

A key objective of the implementation of the GHS is to create a system that would, to a great extent, allow the use of a single North American label and safety data sheet for each hazardous product. Canada and the United States are working to keep variances to a minimum; however, there will be some regulatory variances, such as bilingual labels in Canada, between the two countries.

GHS Implementation in Canada:

Health Canada has been working closely with the provinces and territories to transition to the new system.

Following changes to federal legislation, the implementation of the GHS would require provinces and territories to make their own legislative and regulatory amendments.

Health Canada is also developing regulations for the implementation of GHS. Between June and September 2013, Health Canada consulted with stakeholders and the public on the proposed regulations.

Under the proposed legislation, the GHS would apply to sectors currently under WHMIS. Additionally, there are eight sectors (consumer products, pest control products, explosives, cosmetics, medical devices, drugs, food, wood and products made from wood) that are currently excluded from WHMIS in Canada but included by the U.S. and other jurisdictions.

Under the new legislation, these sectors would be moved to a Schedule to the Hazardous Products Act (HPA). If and when the Government of Canada moves forward on excluded sectors, any of the sectors listed in the Schedule could be brought under all or some of the provisions of the HPA through the normal regulatory process, including full consultation with impacted sectors.

GHS Implementation in the U.S. and other countries:

The international community is rapidly moving toward adoption of the GHS in their respective sectors.

In March 2012, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration published its Final Rule for modifying its existing Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to align with the GHS. By June 1, 2015, GHS will be the accepted standard in the U.S.

The European Union, Australia, Japan, China and South Korea are among the other jurisdictions that have either adopted, or are in the process of adopting, the GHS.