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Currently many different countries have different systems for classification and labeling of chemical products, and multiple systems can exist  within the same country. Not only has this been expensive for governments to regulate and enforce, it is costly for those companies who have to comply with these systems. Also this  situation is confusing for workers who need to understand the hazards of a chemical in order to work safely, because they have to become familiar with, and understand many different ways of conveying basically the same information.

To rectify this situation governments around the world got together, along with an international team of hazard communication experts to develop the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). GHS is  a system that defines and classifies the hazards of chemical products. In addition it communicates health and safety information on labels and material safety data sheets (called Safety Data Sheets, or SDSs, in GHS). The goal is that the same set of rules for classifying hazards, and the same format and content for labels and safety data sheets (SDS) will be adopted and used around the world.

The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety has a good introduction to GHS (see following link) http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/ghs.html . One of the things that I had not considered in looking at GHS , was the impact that this new system would have on other existing laws. For example in Canada GHS alignment will require that  Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) related laws (the Hazardous Products Act  and Controlled Products Regulations) be adjusted, and employers will have to train their staff in the newly aligned WHMIS systems.

Digging further into the information I found that there were still some Canadian specific requirements around the implementation of GHS in the area of  MSDSs/SDSs which currently must be met, for  example:

  • The SDS must be available in English and French.
  • The SDS must not have a preparation date exceeding 3 years.
  • The SDS must provide the name and address of a Canadian supplier.
  • Hazardous ingredients must be disclosed according to the requirements of the Hazardous Products Act

While this is a Canadian example how many other countries are going to have specific requirements? Does your country have similar requirements that are not global in nature?

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