Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System
The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System is a major response to Canadian workers right to know more about safety and the health hazards of materials used in the workplace.WHMIS legislation, effective October 31, 1988, provides employees, employers and suppliers nationwide with specific vital information about hazardous materials.
Exposure to such materials can contribute to many serious health conditions such as kidney or lung damage, sterility, cancer, burns and dermatitis. Some materials can cause fires or explosions.
Because of the seriousness of such problems and the lack of information available to many employers and employees, it was agreed to implement WHMIS with the goal of reduced incidence of illness and injury caused by hazardous materials in the workplace.
The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is Canada’s hazard communication standard. The key elements of the system are cautionary labelling of containers of WHMIS “controlled products”, the provision of material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and worker education programs.
WHMIS is implemented through coordinated federal, provincial and territorial legislation. Supplier labelling and MSDS requirements are set out under theHazardous Products Act (HPA) and associated Controlled Products Regulations. The Government of Canada Department of Health, commonly referred to as Health Canada, administers the Hazardous Products Act and its regulations.
Each of the thirteen provincial, territorial and federal agencies responsible for occupational safety and health has established employer WHMIS requirements within their respective jurisdiction. These requirements place an onus on employers to ensure that controlled products used, stored, handled or disposed of in the workplace are properly labelled, MSDSs are made available to workers, and workers receive education and training to ensure the safe storage, handling and use of controlled products in the workplace.
WHMIS balances workers’ right-to-know with industry’s right to protect confidential business information and includes a mechanism for ruling on claims for exemption from disclosure of confidential business information as well as appeals to these rulings.
WHMIS To Change With Proposed Adoption Of GHS GHS stands for Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. Like WHMIS, GHS is a systematic approach to defining and classifying hazards, and communicating health and safety information on labels and material safety data sheets (called Safety Data Sheets or SDSs in GHS). GHS is broader than WHMIS in that it will apply to more than workplaces. It also applies to consumer chemicals and chemicals during transport as well as to chemicals that are currently exempt or partially exempt from WHMIS (e.g. pesticides, pharmaceuticals, explosives and consumer products). The target audiences for GHS include workers, transport workers, emergency responders and consumers. The target date for implementation in Canada is 2008. Each country is free to determine which parts of the GHS system will be used in the different sectors (workplace, transportation, consumers) of their system and Canada is in the process of doing just that. If GHS is adopted for certain hazard classes and categories then the corresponding rules for classification, and labelling information must also be used. There is no direct translation from WHMIS hazard classifications to the GHS hazard classifications. There are more hazard classes under GHS than currently under WHMIS. Chemical producers will have to classify their products using the new GHS rules for the classes and categories that are being used in Canada. MSDSs will need to be reviewed and modified or rewritten depending on how closely existing data sheets match the required format and content of the new SDSs. Review and modification of the new SDSs will be a huge undertaking for chemical producers. Training will be another major undertaking for chemical users and producers. Workers will need to be familiarized with new hazard classes introduced with GHS, the new format of SDSs and trained to understand the information found on new labels and SDSs.
Do I have to be educated and trained in WHMIS?
Yes. All Canadian jurisdictions require that employers develop, implement, and maintain a worker education program that will enable workers to work safely with hazardous chemicals. The first step is classification (i.e. is it a controlled product?) of the products used in your workplace. You are required to learn how to use product labels and data sheets, how products may affect a person’s health or safety, and what the necessary safety and emergency response procedures are in the workplace.
What is the purpose of WHMIS training?
The overall goal is to give workers knowledge and information that will protect their health and safety every day on the job.