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Canada gets Globally Harmonized

By Brian McFadden

Canada and the United States have been working together to align their laws for classifying and labeling chemicals. This is great news for companies that trade or transport chemicals between the two countries — but what are the details of that plan?

Back in 2011, the Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council was created by the leaders of the two countries. Because contradicting laws and requirements could negatively impact trade, the Council’s goal was to recommend cooperative adjustments to each nation’s laws. The Council’s work led to a plan for both countries to adopt elements of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS), an international standard already in use in several other countries. Specifically, the two nations would create shared classification and labeling requirements “within the mandate of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Health Canada (HC).”

In the United States, the OSHA regulations about chemical labeling are called the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). The original version of the HCS, sometimes called “Right-to-Know,” didn’t line up with any other nation’s rules, so every chemical that was imported or exported had to have a fresh label and new documentation before crossing the border. To resolve this, OSHA adopted most of the international GHS rules, with some minor changes to make the standard a better fit for U.S. law. This revised HCS was published in 2012 (earning it the nickname “HazCom 2012”). OSHA’s implementation of GHS stays close enough to the original to streamline international trade; labels that comply with the GHS standard also meet the demands of the United States’ HCS.

Similarly, Canada’s Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) was originally created by Health Canada (HC) to control chemical labeling on a domestic basis, and didn’t align with other nations’ laws. In August of 2014, HC published a new set of proposed rules, expected to be finalized by early 2015. These “Hazardous Products Regulations” would replace the “Controlled Product Regulations,” a major part of WHMIS.

As with the new rules in the United States, the proposed changes to Canada’s laws adapt GHS to fit within the nation’s legal structure. In addition, HC is specifically choosing to adopt several of the changes from OSHA’s implementation. The end result will be a system that protects Canadian workers, simplifies trade between Canada and the United States, and aligns with international standards.

The new Canadian regulations are still only “proposed,” so they are not yet final or binding. The planned schedule for implementation, however, uses June 1, 2015 as the target to have the new regulations in effect. That date is one of the elements borrowed from OSHA’s implementation — meaning that when facilities comply with one nation’s laws, they will also be complying with the other nation’s laws.

The European Union and many nations worldwide have already adopted GHS, so Canada and the United States are joining a global network of countries that share similar chemical classification and labeling systems. The end result will be a safer workplace, wherever it may be.

For a Canadian view of the GHS system, see You can also read the full text of the proposed Canadian rules at