Slow evolution from WHMIS to GHS

Canada ready to go global with hazardous materials safety system but move on hold until U.S. catches up
By Andy Shaw
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/07/2009

If the acronym WHMIS doesn’t ring a bell, one of its warning labels surely will: An encircled skull and crossbones, indicating the chemicals in that container are “materials causing immediate and serious toxic effects.”

Developed in the 1980s, WHMIS — Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System — is Canada’s national hazard communication program consisting of symbols and warning labels for consumers and material-specific safety data sheets that guide the handling of dangerous substances in the workplace, as well as related worker education and training. ¬WHMIS sprang from what many see as a model of co-operative federal, provincial and territorial legislation and joint efforts by both public and private sector organizations.

Now there’s a move afoot to bring ¬WHMIS in line with standardized hazard warnings and dangerous substance controls across the globe under the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The new banner has some serious international backing, including the United Nations (UN), the International Labour Organization, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Union (EU).