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Canada Aligns to GHS

By Jordy Byrd

whmis label on chemical drum

OSHA's revised chemical labeling requirements are in full effect in the United States, and now our neighbors to the north have adopted elements of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS).

OSHA announced a continued partnership this year with Health Canada to align U.S. and Canadian regulatory approaches to labeling and classification requirements for workplace chemicals. The goal of the partnership is to implement a unified system allowing the use of one label and one Safety Data Sheet (SDS) that would be acceptable in both countries.

"We work in a global environment with varying and sometimes conflicting national and international requirements," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "Through this partnership, OSHA and Health Canada will work together to reduce inconsistencies among hazard communication regulations and provide concise information to protect workers exposed to hazardous chemicals without reducing current protections."

Canada's GHS Transition

The transition dates back to 2011, when both countries created the Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council in an effort to boost trade. OSHA and Health Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2013 to promote ongoing collaboration as each nation worked to adopt elements of GHS in their respective jurisdictions.

OSHA revised its Hazard Communication Standard, originally created in 1994, to align with GHS. The revised standard is known as HazCom 2012 and was adopted in March 2012. The final implementation deadline for most facilities was June 2015.

Similarly, Health Canada analyzed an existing standard. The federal agency analyzed Canada’s Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS 1988), which was originally created in 1988, and went on to amend the Hazardous Products Act and the new Hazardous Products Regulations in February 2015. The amendments formally modified WHMIS 1988 to align with GHS, and the revised standard is known as WHMIS 2015.

Legislation is currently in force, yet a multi-year transition plan has been announced which sets varied deadlines for manufactures and importers, distributors, and employers. Currently, suppliers may begin to use new WHMIS 2015 requirements for labels and SDSs for hazardous products sold, distributed, or imported into Canada, or they can continue to use WHMIS 1998 standards. They may comply with either set of rules until the final implementation deadline in December 2018.

Manufacturers, distributors, and employers must meet the following chemical labeling deadlines:


Manufacturers and Importers



Through May 31, 2017

WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015

WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015

Varies by province, territory, and federally regulated workplace

June 1, 2017- May 31, 2018

WHMIS 2015

WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015

WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015

June 1, 2018-Nov 30, 2018

WHMIS 2015

WHMIS 2015

WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015

Dec 1, 2018

WHMIS 2015

WHMIS 2015

WHMIS 2015


Canadian Employer Responsibilities

Chemical labeling is only part of the total transition. Until the transition to WHMIS 2015 is complete, employees must be trained on both the dated WHMIS 1988 system of labels and material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and new label and SDS requirements.

Employers have the general responsibility to provide all available hazard information. This may include information provided by the supplier, or whatever information the employer has on file. Employers are also expected to consult with the health and safety committee when developing, implementing, or reviewing the education and training programs.

In addition, the employer must review their overall WHMIS education and training program, at least annually or more often if there is a change in work conditions or hazard information.

Refresher education and training is generally required:

  • As needed to protect the worker’s health and safety
  • When workplace conditions changed
  • When new products are introduced
  • When the products have changed and have different hazards
  • When new hazard information becomes available
  • If there is new information about safe use, handing, storage or disposal

WHMIS 2015 education and training requirements vary across provinces, territories and workplaces. Some jurisdictions may add additional employer requirements, and therefore businesses should consult their local jurisdiction for specific requirements and transition time lines.

It's a long road ahead, with many learning curves along the way. Canada will continue to partner with OSHA to ensure a smooth transition. Once complete, the end result will be a system that protects Canadian workers, simplifies trade between Canada and the United States, and aligns with international standards.