Health Canada is currently contemplating a potentially major overhaul of the rules regarding the classification and labeling of workplace chemicals – even the pictograms are changing! The purpose of the change is to implement the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) in Canada.
This should (hopefully!) bring a sigh of relief from workers, employers and producers involved in the manufacture and use of workplace chemicals.
A little background: chemicals used in the workplace are often produced and sold around the world. Different regulatory requirements mean that there are multiple standards, classifications and label requirements for the same chemicals in different jurisdictions. These differences make it hard for countries to regulate the import and export of chemical products, increases costs to industry (the need to comply with multiple, different regimes isn’t fun or easy) and impact workers who need to understand the hazards of a chemical in order to work safely.
The GHS is an international system created by the United Nations aimed at implementing a consistent set of criteria for classification and labeling on a global level. (Interesting tidbit – Canada’s current system was one of four major existing systems used as the basis of the GHS: go us!)
The GHS system covers all hazardous chemicals, including chemicals used in the workplace, transport, consumer products, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. The goal of the GHS is to harmonize the classification and labelling of chemicals and mixtures and the communication of health and safety information. In addition to being safer for workers, GHS promotes regulatory efficiencies (a personal favourite of ours here at theregulationstation!), facilitates trade, improves compliance and reduces costs.
Aside from GHS just being a good idea, the implementation of the GHS is intended to achieve one of the Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council commitments, i.e. to align and synchronize implementation of common classification and labelling requirements for workplace hazardous chemicals within the mandate of Health Canada and the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Earlier this month, Health Canada launched a consultation process that sets the ball rolling on applying the GHS in Canada. The comment period closes on September 15th.
While exciting, this is not new news – a plan to switch to a new system was first announced in 2011 as part of the Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council commitment, intended to bolster trade between those two countries. However, as more and more countries get on board, these changes could have a much larger impact; 67 countries have already implemented the GHS.