OSHA and Canada Partner for Chemical Labeling System

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).” OSHA announced a continued partnership with Canada in May 2015.

"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."

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.

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.

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