Workers Health & Safety Centre

MOL seeks public input on proposal to merge GHS with WHMIS

Ontario’s Ministry of Labour (MOL) is seeking input on a proposal to amend WHMIS-related laws to implement the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).
The public is invited by the MOL to provide written comments about the proposed amendments until December 19.
In Canada, protecting workers from hazardous chemicals is governed by WHMIS requirements spelled out in federal law which must then be adopted by the provinces and territories in their occupational health and safety laws.
The federal government has begun the process of regulatory changes needed to implement GHS into the current WHMIS system. For instance, Bill C-31 has already amended the Hazardous Products Act and a new Hazardous Products Regulations has been proposed to replace the Controlled Products Regulations.
The Ontario government is now proposing to follow suit with their proposal to amend related provisions in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the Act) and the WHMIS Regulation. According to the MOL and the federal government, GHS will be used to modify, not replace WHMIS.
The purpose of the new GHS system, developed through a United Nations agency, is to establish a single globally-recognized set of rules for classifying chemicals. This was done to promote both workplace safety and international trade.

Employer duties not expected to change dramatically

GHS modifications are not expected to change the current responsibilities for employers including:
  • ensuring hazardous materials are properly labelled,
  • ensuring safety data sheets (SDSs) are current and accessible to workers (and others who might need this information),
  • ensuring worker health and safety is protected, and
  • providing workers with general and workplace-specific training relating to hazardous materials (see below for more details).

The amendments will, however, change the current chemical classification and labelling system. Examples include:
  • new hazard classification rules and hazard classes,
  • safety data sheets (SDSs—16 section format) replace MSDSs (9 section format),
  • new content requirements on labels including standard signal words (warning or danger) pictograms and both a hazard and precautionary statement, and
  • pictograms to replace hazard symbols (and are required on SDSs and labels).
The amendments will also alter SDS and label updating requirements. For instance:
  • employers will be required to update labels or container information as soon as a supplier provides significant new data to the employer (this complements a new supplier duty to update a label within 180 days of becoming aware of significant new data that would affect label content), and
  • suppliers will be required to update SDSs within 90 days of new hazard information becoming available (SDSs would no longer automatically expire three years after the date of publication).
Employers will also be required to consult with the JHSC or worker health and safety representative on how best to make SDSs available in the workplace, including making them available electronically.

Impact on WHMIS training/retraining

With the extensive amendments proposed by the MOL, WHMIS training programs will need to be updated. In short, the law requires that training result in the workers being able to use the information to protect their health and safety [s. 7(3), WHMIS Reg.].
Employers will need to ensure all workers, joint committee members, supervisors and others be trained or retrained in order to comply with the requirements outlined in the WHMIS regulations.
In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established mandatory deadlines for employers to provide training on the new label elements and SDS format. OSHA also established minimum training standards.  
Unfortunately, a mandatory training standard for WHMIS training is not among the proposed changes offered by the MOL, despite workers and workplace representatives long identifying the need for improved WHMIS training in Ontario workplaces. Worker representatives have raised several instances where for example workers have been handed WHMIS videos and told to watch them on personal time. Practices like these hardly constitute the necessary training workers and workplace representatives need to stem the epidemic of occupational disease in this province. Occupational disease is the single largest and growing cause of worker-related death in Ontario.
For consistency with the federal government, Ontario’s MOL is proposing that new requirements will come into force on June 1, 2015. They will however, provide for a lengthy transition period—until June 2017—for full implementation of the GHS.
Once Ontario regulations are clearly established, the Workers Health & Safety Centre will take measures to update our extensive catalogue of related WHMIS training programs and information products. We will keep WHSC e-bulletin subscribers, clients and constituents apprised of our progress.   
Again, the public is invited by the MOL to provide written comments about the proposed WHMIS after GHS amendments until December 19.
Want to know more about the MOL’s WHMIS/GHS consultation?

Want to know more about GHS from Health Canada?
Want to see Bill C-31 for related federal changes (see text of the bill at the upper right of the web site then see amendments to the Hazardous Products Act in the table of contents)?
Want to know more about WHSC WHMIS training?
Want additional information about how the WHSC can help your workplace comply with the extensive training obligations mandated by health and safety law?
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