Health Canada Proposes WHMIS 2.0 Timeframe

Update to the Canadian Standard

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is due for its greatest shakeup ever, as the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is introduced to replace the current rules for classification and labelling, in a process sometimes called “WHMIS 2.0”. This will mark the greatest change ever to the venerable WHMIS system, first introduced in 1988, and will be a giant step forward for international harmonization.

The current WHMIS standard is uniquely Canadian, using a classification and labelling system different from those used by other countries. The GHS standard will bring Canada’s hazard communication system in line with the rest of the world. Harmonization should result in significant savings for Canadian manufacturers and distributors, while making sure that workers still receive the information they need to stay safe.

But time is running out for Canada – the European Union (EU) and United States have already implemented their systems, which are due to become mandatory June 1 next year. Health Canada, the federal department that administers WHMIS through the current Controlled Product Regulations (CPR), has little time left to introduce the GHS and have it in place by next year.

The Importance of WHMIS 2.0

Why is this important? WHMIS was developed by Canadians, without considering how hazard communication works in other countries. It uses a unique classification scheme, as well as a labelling system different from both the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) standard, and the EU system. Even the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) format was unique to Canada, although bulletins from Health Canada over the years have provided the option to use alternate formats, such as the GHS version.

In the past, it was possible to create labels that incorporated both U.S. and Canadian requirements in one label. While WHMIS requires symbols on the supplier label, there were no mandatory symbols under the old OSHA standard. But under GHS, U.S. labels will require symbols and standardized phrases. It will no longer be possible to combine these with the WHMIS symbols.

ghs-transition-guides-button-2The result is that product coming from outside Canada must be relabeled if it arrives with U.S. labels (or labels from other GHS-compliant countries). Exporters will be forced to relabel their product for sale in other countries as well. This creates a massive burden on Canadian industry. At ICC Compliance Center, we have already seen companies forced to spend thousands of dollars just in relabeling costs on imported goods. It’s vital for Canadian industry that the GHS hazard communication standard be available, at least as an option, as soon as possible.

The WHMIS 2.0 Proposed Effective Dates

Health Canada has announced it plans to replace the current CPR (which includes the old classification, labelling and MSDS requirements) with a new regulation, the Hazardous Product Regulations (HPR). This will introduce the GHS standard into WHMIS, and allow Canadians to classify, label and document hazardous products in the same way as our major trading partners. The big question, though, is how soon this can be achieved.

Creating regulations is a long and arduous process, but Health Canada has given an indication that the final step is near. According to a report presented at the recent WHMIS Current Issues Committee at the annual fall meeting, the anticipated dates are:

  • Introduction of the new HPR – No earlier than December 1, and no later than June 1, 2015.
  • Implementing the new system for classification, labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) – A three-year transition period, to end in June, 2017.
  • Extension for clearing out stock already in the marketplace with outdated labels and SDSs– from June, 2017 to June, 2018.
  • Extension for clearing out stock already in the workplace with outdated labels and SDSs– from June, 2017 to December, 2018.

It appears, based on this timeframe, that the publication of the HPR in Canada Gazette II may occur before the end of the year. This will give at least some lead time in preparing GHS-compliant materials.

Process & Implementation

The federal government is not the only body involved in the WHMIS system. Each province and territory will have to amend its occupational health and safety regulations to reflect the new system. For example, all references to the CPR must be changed to the HPR. It is unlikely that these details will delay the introduction of the new system, but they may complicate provincial enforcement until all the references have been standardized.

Remember that the publication of the HPR means that your workforce may soon be dealing with new hazard communication rules when handling hazardous products. Training is not covered by the HPR, but should be considered as part of any plan to get ready for GHS.

Do you have any questions regarding WHMIS 2.0, or the international GHS standard? Contact ICC Compliance Center online or by phone at 888-442-9628 (U.S.) or 888-977-4834 (Canada), and ask for one of our regulatory specialists. We can help you understand the requirements, and get ready for the upcoming changes.

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2 thoughts on “Health Canada Proposes WHMIS 2.0 Timeframe

  1. Does this mean, if our company does business in Canada, by meeting the OSHA/GHS requirements for labeling, marking, & SDS’ will be the same in WHMIS 2.0 and no additional requirements are needed (e.g. Hash Border)?

    1. Hi, Dominic! Most of the differences between Canada and the U.S. will be removed by the implementation of GHS. For example, the hash-marked border will no longer be required. However, Health Canada will still require the use of French on the label, and for suppliers to be able to provide SDSs in both official languages. So, you can create a Canada/U.S. label, but it will have to have French as well as English on it. Some suppliers are choosing to create a French/English/Spanish version (although Spanish is not mandatory in the U.S.).
      If you’d like to discuss this in more detail, please email me at bfoster@thecompliancecenter.com, or call me at 905-890-7228 X 239.

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