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ERA's Environmental Compliance Management Blog

GHS Transition – Enforcement and Lessons to be Learnt

Posted by Lorcan Archer

Lorcan Archer is ERA Environmental's Content & Technical Writer.

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In our last blog article in this series, we looked at how the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) will be implemented in Canada, and which key dates to pay particular attention to.

We have also covered how American companies, even those that have transitioned to the new SDS format, may fall into non-compliance due to this Canadian transition.

This article will examine the actual steps that Health Canada may take to compel companies towards adoption, as well as taking a broader look at the specific stumbling blocks lessons that can learnt from the United States’ GHS adaption.

The Enforcer

It pays to stay informed of the consequences of non-compliance.

With Canada committed to a time line for this changeover, we reached out to the Workplace Hazardous Materials Bureau of Health Canada to find out exactly how enforcement will be applied.

It’s important to note that Health Canada is the federal body that is charged with enforcing the application of the legislation that is behind the application of the GHS system, namely WHMIS 2015.

We directly asked the body what sort of steps would be taken against companies that did not satisfy the requirements of the transition; ignoring or missing the range of designated deadlines throughout 2017.

The Bureau responded that a “range of options” are available to Health Canada, in order to legally enforce the GHS transition. These range from the lighter end of the scale, starting at “voluntary agreements for correction”, where the agency would assess the situation and its severity and come to an agreement in good faith, to much sharper measures.

Crucially, the agency stated that the option of “orders to stop sale (and) directives not to use the product until corrections are made” were some of the options open to it. This would be extremely concerning to many enterprises, where the prospect of having a line of products forcibly withdrawn from sale would be a major issue.

Harsher enforcement measures could include “seizure and prosecution”. Presumably, it would take either persistent delinquency or mismanagement on a considerable scale for the agency to go to this level – but considering the dangerous nature of the materials covered by the GHS, such measures are perfectly applicable.

Observable Pitfalls

In order to avoid the potential enforcement scenarios above, several re-occurring issues in relation to the transition should be highlighted. These are the persistent hurdles that companies tend to struggle with in their GHS changeover.

Slow Adaption – The preoccupations of running a company means that EH&S related issues can sometimes slip through the cracks. Additionally, a change in company practice is something that is often rarely welcomed at the staff level.

These aspects can often manifest themselves in a sluggish response to the newly applied requirements.

Generally, it is the designated EH&S official in the company that is primarily concerned with these developments. Depending on the individual organization, the message regarding the seriousness of non-compliance may need to be consistently outlined to upper management.

Workplace culture has evolved, and the importance of EH&S issues have appreciatively grown – but EH&S role-holders should make their employers aware of the concrete steps that Health Canada may take should compliance continue to lag.

Slow Acquisition of SDSs from Vendors – This is a practical point that trips up many businesses. A lot of operations are dependent on supplier SDSs, which in many cases may not be fully up to code, due to a lag or issue on the supplier end.

The operations of a company may be very much reliant on the established supply chain that is in place. In many cases, simply requesting an updated SDS and ‘sitting tight’ is the sole option that companies have, as the slow wheels of transition turn on the supplier end. In fact, one industry article reported that a lack of SDS movement on the part of suppliers is the “biggest challenge associated with making the SDS transition” in the United States.

Companies with business in Canada could find themselves avoiding this headache entirely if the requirements can be flagged to suppliers in advance of the transition. This would ideally be part of a regular communication exchange with regular, trusted suppliers. Automating this transfer of data is even more ideal.

Lack of Staff Training / Training Responsibility – There have been recorded instances of staff not receiving the training required to properly recognize and interact accordingly with goods and products that are labeled with GHS symbols. This is a crucial part of the process; if the labels that comprise the new system are not properly understood, this can undermine the entire effort behind the GHS adaption. Any incidents or injuries traced to a lack of training on newly adapted symbols should ultimately be preventable.

Regular training programs that are in place should be adjusted to include informative sessions that outline the new system, promoting understanding in an environment that is quantifiable to regulators.  

 

Knock-On Effects

Delays and inefficiencies that ultimately delay the implementation of GHS can ultimately have a ripple effect throughout the entire business.

The adoption of the system is designed to produce savings across several fronts, and to ultimately reduce the amount of workplace accidents, injuries and deaths.

The effects of lagging behind with implementation can be grouped in two categories then: both the fines and penalties that Health Canada may enforce for non-compliance and losing out on the more incidental benefits that adaption will bring to the company.

Key Solutions

Industry platform EH&S Today carried out a survey earlier this year that examined the GHS transition in the United States and the ways in which companies readied themselves for the changeover.

Crucially, this survey indicated that companies moved to avoid enforcement measures by investing in software solutions that eased their pain-points.  

“It's not surprising that purchasing EHS management software that helps secure, track and maintain SDSs was the single biggest investment made by companies looking to comply with the GHS.”

For example, by purchasing solutions that automatically downloads SDS information directly from the vendor, as offered by ERA’s SDS Management solution, companies can completely resolve the above-discussed discussed issue of slow acquisition of SDS from vendors.

By taking stock of the enforcement measures that may be approaching, identifying transition point-points, companies will be able to ensure that Canada’s transition doesn’t negatively affect their operations in, or exports to, that country.

For more on how ERA can help in smoothing out your GHS transition, download the free linked eBook below. This eBook has compiled some of the best moves you can make to ensure your business attains total compliance.

View Guide on GHS Business Risks & Opportunities

Topics: SDS