What is WHMIS?
WHMIS stands for Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System and is Canada’s national hazard communication standard. It outlines the obligations of each party in the chemical supply chain – from chemical suppliers, importers, and distributors who traffic in controlled products to the employers and workers who use them. WHMIS is based upon the idea that workers have the right to know about the hazards of the materials they work with and steps they can take to protect themselves.
On February 11, 2015 the Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR) was published in Canada Gazette II establishing the adoption of GHS through the revision of WHMIS. Additionally, a timeline was published setting out the compliance deadlines for suppliers and employers. (See GHS & WHMIS tab below.) This is the most significant change to Canada's national hazard communication standards since 1988. The new standard, which is being called WHMIS 2015, intentionally stays very close to OSHA's adoption of GHS in the United States, with a few notable exceptions. (Learn more about MSDSonline's WHMIS 2015 Training)
Health Canada estimates that 1 in 4 Canadian workers are exposed to controlled products on the job and that employee exposure to hazardous chemicals costs the economy more than $600 million annually. Health Canada further believes that aligning with the GHS standard will save $195.5 million over the next 20 years.
In 1988, to ensure worker access to adequate hazard information about chemicals in use at their work sites, an impressive coordination of federal, provincial and territorial legislation led to the implementation of a national hazard communication standard called WHMIS.
The three major tenets of WHMIS are:
- Labeling of WHMIS controlled products
- Provision of material safety data sheets (MSDSs)
- Worker education and training programs
Complicating WHMIS compliance are the rigorous provisions around MSDS management and workplace labeling. For example, among other WHMIS related responsibilities, employers must ensure MSDSs are updated every three years and that workplace containers (or secondary containers) of controlled products in the workplace are properly labeled.
Non-Compliance is Costly
WHMIS violations can result in fines of up to $1,000,000 and two years' imprisonment. Similar fines and imprisonment terms can be handed out for provincial violations and can lead to seizure of products and work site shut downs.
Health Canada estimates that several million chemicals are available to the Canadian market and that more than 3 million Canadian workers are exposed to chemicals on the job annually.
WHMIS is enforced by the Labour Branch of Human Resources Development Canada for federal workplaces and by the provincial or territorial agencies responsible for occupational health and safety for most other workplaces.