2017: the year GHS will solve all our problems?

Important Update: Health Canada announced a new deadline for suppliers after this article was published. Canadian suppliers now have until June 1, 2018 to update their SDSs in Canada. Originally the deadline was May 31, 2017. 

As the GHS is implemented in Canada under the handle of WHMIS 2015 and Canada nears the May 31, 2017 deadline for Suppliers to update their SDSs in Canada, our consulting business is busy authoring SDSs and Labels, to prepare for the change. I have heard some opinions from dealings in my consulting work that this must be the last time Suppliers will ever need to think about authoring a Safety Data Sheet document. This is a misconception and it is incorrect.  There are several issues to consider:

If we look back to 2003, the United Nations (UN) adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). The GHS includes criteria for the classification of health, physical and environmental hazards, as well as specifying what information should be included on labels of hazardous chemicals as well as safety data sheets. Canada was an active participant in the development of the GHS, and is a member of the UN bodies established to maintain and coordinate implementation of the system. The official text can be found on the UN web page.

During these discussions, there was significant debate to not use the term “Standardized” and settled on the term “Harmonized”.  Why? The efforts to “harmonize” took 20 years so common classification schemes could be adopted – “standardized” where everything had one universal standard would have taken much longer.

Harmonizing classifications, SDSs and labels is an improvement for global trade but Safety Data Sheets are authored to meet the individual regulations for the country the product is sold or imported into and this is where things vary based on the country.

For instance, in Canada the 3-year rule will be gone except for some provinces/territories that have shifted the responsibility from the Supplier to the Employer (to date: BC, SK, NWT, YK). In these provinces, the employer needs to check every 3 years that no significant information has changed on the Safety Data Sheet. If there are changes to classifications, toxicity information, Exposure Limits for your product a new SDS might be required.

Classification changes for a product can affect Section 14 of the Safety Data Sheet on Transportation Information that Transport Canada seems all too willing and able to enforce for the past several years for many of our Oil and Gas clients.

A hazardous product for sale in Canada must have an SDS and supplier label available in the official languages of French and English. For example, an English only SDS arriving from the USA may be challenged on language grounds, in some workplaces if a portion of the population of the workforce communicates in French as a first language.

If new data becomes available, Canadian producers have 90 days to make this knowledge public for a hazardous product sold or imported into Canada, by a written notice along with an SDS document. Supplier Labels need to be updated within 180 days.

Exporting products beyond North America is still a challenge.  The European formatted SDSs are similar to SDSs in North America but there are different cutoff points for hazardous products depending on the type and degree of hazard.

There are significant other hurdles to exporting to Europe beyond the cutoff quantities. REACH legislation forces extensive risk assessments along the value chain of the product.  This is a significant barrier to entry for a new product to enter Europe.

The hope for some that GHS has “harmonized” us into one standard for all safety data sheets is unfortunately not the case. Suppliers will continue to need to keep on top of their product classifications, language requirements, and other related regulation changes in their country/state to stay compliant.

May 31, 2017 is the deadline for Suppliers to update their SDSs in Canada.

Important Update: As noted at the beginning of the article Canadian suppliers now have until June 1, 2018 to update their SDSs in Canada.

Author: chemscape

Michael Phibbs, CIH ROH MBA, is a Certified Industrial Hygienist by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene and Registered Occupational Hygienist by the Canadian Registration Board of Occupational Hygienists. Mike owns Deerfoot Consulting and has authored 1000's of Material Safety Data Sheets. Mike also owns Chemscape Safety Technologies which offers Chemical Hazard & Risk Management Technologies including MSDS management services with msdsBinders, as well as online WHMIS and TDG training courses.

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