A chemical hazard is a potential source of danger or injury. "Hazard" is the harm that something can cause. The harm may be physical injury or damage to health, property and/or the environment.
What is WHMIS?
WHMIS is a short form for Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System. It is a national system for providing information on the safe use of hazardous materials in the workplace.
WHMIS was created:
- as a way to ensure every Canadian worker's right to know about the safety and health hazards that may be associated with the materials or chemicals they use at work.
- to help stop the injuries, illnesses, deaths, medical costs, fires and explosions caused by the unsafe use of hazardous materials. Hazardous materials can be used safely if appropriate precautions are followed.
WHMIS became law through a series of complementary federal, provincial and territorial legislation that became effective October 31, 1988.
The majority of the hazard identification and information requirements of WHMIS were incorporated into the federal Hazardous Products Act and the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act. This umbrella legislation applies to all of Canada.
Each province and territory has their own Act and Regulations to legislate WHMIS for workers and employers in their jurisdiction.
The occupational health and safety components of WHMIS that apply to federal employees and others covered by the Canada Labour Code (CLC) are specified in the CLC and the Canadian Occupational Safety and Health Regulations (Part X).
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.
Suppliers, employers and workers have different responsibilities under WHMIS:
Suppliers sell or import products. Suppliers must determine if their products are hazardous. "Controlled product" are products that meet specific criteria for determining if a material is hazardous.
When a product is determined to be a "controlled product", the supplier must label the product or container, and provide a material safety data sheet (MSDS) to their customers. The MSDS explains the hazards and safe handling procedures for the product, while the label summarizes key information from the MSDS.
Employers must provide education and training programs for workers exposed to hazardous products in the workplace. Employers must also make sure products are labelled and that an MSDS is present and readily available to workers.
Workers are required to participate in the training programs and to use this information to help them work safely with hazardous materials. Including wearing required personal protective equipment (PPE). They should also inform employers when labels on containers have been accidentally removed or if the label is no longer readable.
Every worker in Canada has the Right to Know about hazards at their workplace and how to work safely (addressed thru WHMIS), the Right to Participate in health and safety activities, and the Right to Refuse unsafe work. For more information, see the section "Employee Rights".
Components of WHMIS
The four components of WHMIS are:
- hazard identification and product classification
- material safety data sheets (MSDS)
- worker education and worksite specific training.
Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)
MSDSs are prepared by the supplier or manufacturer of the material.
The MSDS is intended to tell:
- what the hazards of the product are,
- how to use the product safely,
- what to expect if the recommendations are not followed,
- how to recognize symptoms of overexposure, and
- what to do if accidents occur.
In Canada, every material that is controlled by WHMIS must have an accompanying MSDS that is specific to each individual product or material (both the product name and supplier on the MSDS must match the material in use).
There are nine (9) categories of information that must be present on an MSDS in Canada. These categories are specified in the Controlled Products Regulations and include:
- Product Information (product identifier, manufacturer/supplier's contact information, emergency phone numbers)
- Hazardous Ingredients
- Physical Data
- Fire or Explosion Hazard
- Reactivity Data (if the product is unstable; if it will react with other chemicals)
- Toxicological Properties (health effects)
- Preventive Measures (personal protective equipment, handling and emergency procedures, etc.)
- First Aid Measures
- Preparation Information (who prepared the MSDS and when it was prepared)
The Controlled Products Regulations prescribes what information must be present in more detail.
You will see that some MSDSs use the 16-heading format. This is acceptable in Canada as long as all the required information specified in the Controlled Products Regulations (CPR) is addressed, all required headings and subheadings on the MSDS have some content (that is, fields are not blank).
If the supplier/manufacturer uses a 16-section MSDS, the following statement must appear under the section heading Regulatory Information:
WHMIS Education and Training
Education is required by law for all workers who use, handle or work near WHMIS controlled products. WHMIS education means teaching workers about WHMIS and the hazards of controlled products used or stored in the workplace. WHMIS training refers to instruction in worksite-specific information such as work and emergency procedures. All employers must have an active worker education and training program. The overall goal is to give workers knowledge and information that they can understand and apply to protect their health and safety every day.
When You Start a New Job - Some Tips to Remember
Some students are reluctant to ask questions or get the information they need on a new job, since they may feel it makes them look inexperienced or like a "trouble maker".
Expect WHMIS training at the beginning of any new job - very few jobs exist where there are no hazardous materials on the site.
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