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 the Hazardous Products Act and associated Controlled Products Regulations. The Hazardous Products Act and its regulations are administered by the Government of Canada Department of Health, commonly referred to as Health Canada.
The Controlled Products Regulations establish a national standard for the classification of hazardous workplace materials. In addition to setting out criteria for biohazards, chemical and acute hazards, the regulations specify criteria for chronic health hazards including mutagenicity, carcinogenicity, embryo and reproductive toxicity, respiratory tract and skin sensitization.
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.