WHMIS 2015: How Does It Compare to the US Version of GHS?


The recently published final Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR) implement the GHS in Canada in the form of WHMIS 2015. The goal of the GHS is to standardize the labels and safety data sheets (SDSs) for hazardous substances across countries to eliminate or reduce confusion and compliance challenges, and better protect workers worldwide. But despite this goal, the versions of GHS adopted in each country aren’t necessarily identical. So here’s a look at the differences between WHMIS 2015 and the US’s version of GHS.

GHS in the US

The US adopted GHS first. Its final Hazard Communications Standard (2012) (HazCom 2012 or HCS 2012) was published in March 2012 and took effect in May 2012. Compliance was phased in, with several key compliance deadlines already having past and others still to come. For example, employers had until Dec. 1, 2013 to train workers on the new label elements and SDS format. And employers have until June 1, 2016 to update alternative workplace labeling and hazard communication programs as necessary, and provide additional worker training for newly identified physical or health hazards.

Insider Says: For information on the HazCom 2012 requirements in the US and how to comply with them, go to Safety Smart Compliance, which has a compliance centre filled with articles, tools and other resources to help companies based in or that do business in the US transition to the new HazCom 2012 system.

Canada v. US

Because of the proximity and trade relations between Canada and the US, a key objective of the implementation of the GHS in Canada was to create a system that allowed for compliance with Canadian and US requirements through the use of a single label and SDS for each hazardous product. Although the governments of the two countries worked to keep variances to a minimum, there are some differences that were necessary to maintain the current level of protection for workers or due to the requirements of the respective legislative frameworks. The chart below, which is based on one created by Health Canada, shows the key variances between WHMIS 2015 in Canada and HazCom 2012 in the US. Note that, under Canada, all references to specific sections refer to the HPR.

Key Variance Requirements
Canada United States
Language requirements for labels and SDSs Labels and SDSs must be in both English and French (Sec. 6.2(1)). This information may appear either on a single bilingual SDS or on two separate unilingual documents that constitute one bilingual SDS. The same applies to labels (Sec. 6.2(2)). Labels and SDSs must be in English.
Supplier identifier A Canadian supplier identifier must appear on the label and SDS (Sec. 3(1) and item 1(d) of Schedule I). A Canadian distributor may omit the name of the initial supplier if it lists its own name, address and telephone number instead (Sec. 5.8). A Canadian importer may retain the name of the foreign supplier instead of using its own identity only if the hazardous product is imported for use in its own workplace (Sec. 5.9). The name, address and telephone number of the manufacturer, importer or other responsible party must appear on the label and SDS. The responsible party need not have a US address; however, the telephone number must be a US number.
Mixture containing a Category 2 carcinogen at a concentration between 0.1 – 1.0% All mixtures containing a carcinogenic ingredient (whether Category 1 or 2) at a concentration of 0.1% or more are required to have label as well as an SDS (Secs. 8.6.3 and 8.6.4). All mixtures containing a carcinogenic ingredient (whether Category 1 or 2) at a concentration of 0.1% or more are required to have an SDS. All mixtures containing a Category 1 carcinogen at 0.1% or more or a Category 2 carcinogen at 1% or more must have a label. Mixtures containing a Category 2 carcinogen at a concentration between 0.1% and 1% are not required to have a label—that is, a label warning is optional for such mixtures.
Physical Hazards Not Otherwise Classified (PHNOC)/Health Hazards Not Otherwise Classified (HHNOC) vs. Hazards Not Otherwise Classified (HNOC) Label elements are required for PHNOC and HHNOC (Sec. 3(1)(d)). For mixtures that contain an HHNOC ingredient at a concentration of 1% or more, information relating to the HHNOC ingredient, including its chemical name and concentration or concentration range, must be disclosed on the SDS (item 3(2) of Schedule I). No label elements required for HNOC. For a mixture that contains an HNOC ingredient at a concentration of 1% or more, there’s no requirement to disclose the chemical name or concentration of the HNOC ingredient on the SDS.
Biohazardous Infectious Materials (BIM) A hazard class for BIM is included and products that meet the criteria for this class must be appropriately labelled. Also, besides the standard SDS, there is a requirement for an appendix that provides information specific to the BIM (Sec. 4(3), subpart 11 of Part 8 and Schedule 2). There’s no hazard class for biohazardous infectious materials because these materials in the workplace aren’t regulated by HazCom 2012.
Water-Activated Toxicants Supplemental hazard statement required on the label and SDS indicating that, in contact with water, the product releases gases that are fatal/ toxic/harmful if inhaled (Sec. 3(1)(f)). A supplemental hazard statement is required on the SDS if substances that, upon contact with water, release a toxic gas are present in the workplace in such a manner that workers may be exposed under normal conditions of use or in a foreseeable emergency.
Updating of SDSs and labels Suppliers and importers are allowed a period of 90 days to update SDSs with new data and 180 days to update labels. If a hazardous product is sold or imported within 90 days after significant new data became available, the new data isn’t required to be included on the SDS as long as a written notice providing the new data and the date upon which it became available is transmitted to the purchaser of the product, or obtained or prepared where the product is imported (Sec. 5.12). The above also applies to labels, except that the corresponding period of time is 180 days. Chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors and employers are allowed a period of 3 months to update SDSs with new information and 6 months to update labels.There’s no requirement for a written notice providing the significant new information for importation or sale occurring within the 3 month or 6 month period.
Labels on multi-container shipments When a hazardous product is packaged in more than one container, each container must be fully labelled, unless: a. the small capacity container (≤ 100 mL) exemption applies (Sec. 5.4(1)); or b. one of the outer container exemptions applies (Sec. 5.2). Only the innermost container must be labelled. The outer container doesn’t need to be labelled.
Labels on kit outer containers Outer container of a kit (containing at least two different hazardous products) must be labelled. An exemption permits reduced information on the outer container label, as long as a special statement referring the user to the individual product labels for signal words, hazard statements and precautionary statements is provided on the outer container label (Sec. 5.3). Only the inner containers must be labelled. The outer container of a kit doesn’t need to be labelled.