The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System
(WHMIS) is Canada’s
national hazard communication standard. The key elements of the system, which came into effect on October 31, 1988, are cautionary labelling of containers of WHMIS controlled products, the provision of material safety data sheets
(MSDSs) and worker education and training programs.
WHMIS is an example of synchronization and cooperation amongst Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments. The coordinated approach avoided duplication, inefficiency through loss of scale and the interprovincial trade barriers that would have been created had each province and territory established its own hazard communication system.
WHMIS hazard symbols
Materials causing other toxic effects
Flammable and combustible material
Biohazardous infectious material
Materials causing immediate and serious toxic effects
Dangerously reactive material
For some time, a need had been identified for a nationally consistent workplace hazardous materials information system for chemicals intended for professional use. Existing FPT OHS legislation could control hazardous materials in the workplace but federal legislation was necessary to establish a national information standard, particularly for imported materials.
In 1982 the Canadian Association of Administrators of Labour Legislation accepted the report of a federal/provincial task force which studied the feasibility of labelling hazardous substances in the workplace. The WHMIS project was then started by Labour Canada using a tripartite Steering Committee with representatives from organized labour, industry and the federal government. Representatives of provincial governments and other industry groups also participated as ex-officio members.
The Steering Committee’s main task was to recommend a national system to provide information on hazardous materials used in the workplace, recognizing the interests of workers, employers, suppliers and regulators.
The WHMIS initiative represents an excellent example of consensus-building public engagement. Industry, organized labour and all governments actively participated in the development of WHMIS; i.e, Canada’s national system represents a consensus amongst stakeholders. The system, a shared responsibility, continues to evolve through consensus.
Future and transition to GHS
Implementation of the Globally Harmonized System
(GHS) of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals will require changes to the federal Hazardous Products Act
and associated Controlled Products Regulations
. Technical consultations through the long established multi-stakeholder WHMIS Current Issues Committee are approaching completion. Drafting of revised regulations is anticipated to commence in 2009. Decisions on a number of key areas are yet to be made including, for example, the implementation date, transition period and special provisions for labels and MSDSs. Stakeholder consensus on outstanding issues will be developed concurrently with the drafting of the revised regulations. Canadian GHS implementation objectives include harmonization to the greatest extent possible between Canada and North American Free Trade Agreement