Ontario Begins Transition Process from WHMIS to GHS

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In Canada, protecting workers from hazardous chemicals is governed by WHMIS requirements spelled out in federal law and then adopted with no or minor changes by the provinces and territories in their OHS laws.

So it makes sense that Canada’s transition from WHMIS to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) for workplace chemicals has been driven by the federal government to date.

For example, federal Bill C-31, which amends the Hazardous Products Act, was granted Royal Assent on June 19, 2014. In addition, the federal government published proposed Hazardous Products Regulations to replace the Controlled Products Regulations and implement the GHS. The final regulations are expected to be published in late 2014 or early 2015.

But for GHS to apply to all Canadian workplaces, the provinces and territories will also need to update their WHMIS regulations accordingly.

Despite the fact that the federal GHS requirements aren’t final yet, Ontario has taken some steps to begin the transition from WHMIS to GHS in that province.

The Ministry of Labour has proposed amendments to selected provisions of the OHS Act that set out WHMIS-related duties and to certain requirements in the WHMIS Regulation.

The MOL recognizes that these proposed amendments may change to reflect the final federal Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR) but expects any such changes not to be significant. The new requirements would likely take effect on June 1, 2015. Consistent with the federal government’s approach, it’s anticipated that Ontario’s proposed amendments would provide for a lengthy transition period—until June 2017—for full implementation of the GHS.

Highlights of the MOL’s proposed amendments:

  • The term “material safety data sheet” (MSDS) would be replaced with the term “safety data sheet” (SDS) wherever it appears.
  • SDSs would no longer expire three years after they’re published. Instead, suppliers will be required to update their SDSs within 90 days of new hazard information becoming available.
  • All references related to provisions of the federal Hazardous Materials Information Review Act and the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission (HMIRC) would be updated to reflect recent amendments to the HMIRA and the replacement of the HMIRC with a new mechanism to review claims from suppliers or employers for exemption from requirements to disclose certain information on a label or SDS on the grounds that it’s confidential business information.
  • Selected definitions would be updated or deleted and new ones added for consistency with GHS terms incorporated into federal Hazardous Products Act (HPA) and HPR.
  • The terms “controlled product” and “Controlled Products Regulations” would be replaced with “hazardous product” and “Hazardous Products Regulations” wherever they appear.

In addition, employers would be required to do the following:

  • Consult the JHSC or worker health and safety representative on how best to make SDSs available in the workplace, including making them available electronically.
  • Update labels or container information as soon as a supplier provides significant new data to the employer. This duty complements a new supplier duty in the proposed HPR to update a label within 180 days of becoming aware of significant new data that would affect label content.
  • Attach a label containing the information required on a supplier label to controlled products received as a bulk shipment. (The existing requirement permits use of a workplace label.)
  • Update workplace labels for employer-produced products as soon as significant new data is available.
  • Obtain a supplier SDS when a controlled product is used, handled or stored. (The current provision only refers to “use” of a controlled product at a workplace.)
  • If an employer can’t get a current SDS from the supplier, add any significant new data that the employer’s aware of, or ought reasonably to be aware of, to the supplier SDS. (Current provision requires employer to add information to the supplier SDS on the basis of the ingredients disclosed in it.)

The public may provide written comments to the MOL’s proposed changes through Dec. 19, 2014.