Globally Harmonized System in Canada and the chemical industry
In the late 1990s early 2000s there was global discussion on the need for harmonization opposite health and safety (especially markings) for workers. Every country was onboard conceptually, but it took years for agreement. The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) came into effect in 2012. GHS covers all hazardous chemicals and may be adopted to cover chemicals in the workplace, transport, consumer products, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. The target audiences for GHS include workers, transport workers, emergency responders and consumers.
Canada, which has always been a world leader for programs like Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) made the conscious decision to hold back and wait for the US to be ready for GHS implementation. This was a business decision to accommodate North American business. In the end, the US forged ahead and left Canada behind. We soon found ourselves in ‘catch-up’ mode. Add to the confusion that the feds – Health Canada are the regulatory body responsible for GHS / WHMIS 2015 (what GHS is called in Canada) and enforcement for federal agencies – each province enforces the regulations through occupational health and safety departments.
The next few years were confusing, upsetting and the total lack of harmonizing was evident. This resulted in the opposite of the desired outcome and intention of GHS.
It is during these times that participation in trade associations becomes essential and more relevant than ever. Associations must advocate on industry’s behalf to Governments and other stakeholders. Collaboration is imperative and at times we may find that strange partnerships are forged.
In 2012, GHS became law with a staggered (staged-in phases) approach depending where your company resided in the supply chain. RDC members are considered manufacturers, although we are importers. RDC, recognizing that its members were in a situation that could result in immediate non-compliance, began a goal of harmonizing implementation dates with customers and suppliers on two sides of the border.
On top of this, we were desperately working to protect confidential business information (CBI). Canadians again found themselves in a competitive disadvantage to the US where companies could declare confidentiality at little to no cost. Whereas, in Canada this was at risk or at a costly fee that small- to medium-sized businesses would be at a disadvantage.
RDC and other colleagues in the chemical industry supply
chain formed a group and worked together with Health Canada (the regulator) and Innovation, Science and economic Development (ISED), who listened and heard industry when we asked for help. For this we are truly grateful. RDC and the group were able to get protection for formulations (based on ranges), which means companies don’t have to release their ‘secret sauce’ details and a smoother transition for timelines of implementation. This additional time meant that companies could ensure their house was in order and assist customers with their implementation. RDC’s members alone saved millions of dollars in fees, non-compliance penalties and given more time for the resources that were updating all Safety Data Sheets (SDS).
This group was able to get Health Canada, through this new amendment, to give the following options to suppliers, to list prescribed concentration ranges for ingredients on SDSs, without having to apply for a potentially costly exemption, in accordance with the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act (HMIRA). Suppliers may use this option when they wish to protect exact concentrations, or ‘actual concentration ranges,’ which they feel are trade secrets.
The following are the approved, prescribed,
list of concentration ranges:
0.1 – 1.0%
0.5 – 1.5%
1.0 – 5.0%
3.0 – 7.0%
5.0 – 10.0%
7.0 – 13.0%
10.0 – 30.0%
15.0 – 40.0%
30.0 – 60.0%
45.0 – 70.0%
60.0 – 80.0%
65.0 – 85.0%
80.0 – 100.0%
A supplier may choose to list any one of the above ranges on an SDS, for ingredients that require disclosure, and where the exact concentration or ‘actual concentration range’ falls within one of these ranges. Important here is any ‘one range.’ Only one range can be selected, if the exact concentration or ‘actual concentration range’ falls inside one of these prescribed ranges.
In cases where a supplier’s ingredients vary in concentration and aren’t always present at the same concentration, yet the supplier feels that the variable concentrations are trade secrets, the supplier can choose to combine up to two consecutive prescribed ranges, if that variable concentration is < 30%.
The same would not hold true if an ingredient’s concentration varied and was above 30%. A supplier would not, for example, be able to combine two of the prescribed ranges, if an ingredient’s variable concentration was 28.0-45.0%. For ingredients like this, that are in variable concentrations, but are mostly > 30%, suppliers have the option of listing one of the above, appropriate, prescribed ranges; or listing the ‘actual concentration range.’
For RDC, WHMIS represented a win-win-win. Our members were successful in their desire to protect confidentiality. Our customers and suppliers got more time to meet the new requirements. And when Government works with private sector – that’s a winning trifecta.
About the author:
Cathy Campbell has been with RDC for
22 years. RDC is a trade association for the Canadian chemical and ingredient supply chain. RDC’s members commit to a chemical management system known as Responsible Distribution®, based on the continual improvement of transportation, health, safety, environment, stewardship and sustainability.
Cathy has won awards from the RCMP for the work she has done at RDC with the chemical diversion program. She sits on the Board of RDC and is a volunteer on the Board of Directors for the community in which she lives. She currently chairs the Chemical Allied Industries Group (CAIG), a group working together with Innovation, Science & Economic Development Canada for the betterment of the chemistry industry.