Workers have the right to know about the hazardous materials they are exposed to in the workplace, and employers have a legal obligation to ensure their
employees use the materials safely.
Employer responsibility and worker rights are spelled out in the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), a Canada-wide system designed to provide information to employees on hazardous materials in the workplace. In workplaces where hazardous materials are used, employers must:
- Ensure controlled products are identified through proper labelling;
- Obtain a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each controlled product and ensure the information is available to workers; and
- Educate and train workers on WHMIS, hazards in the workplace, and procedures for the safe handling and use of hazardous materials.
Although the legislation focuses on employer duties, workers must also do their share by participating in training programs; using the information to work safely with hazardous materials; and informing employers when container labels are removed or unreadable, and when MSDS are missing in the workplace.
For employers, WHMIS is not just a compliance exercise – there are tangible benefits to the program. WHMIS promotes a safe and healthy workplace, which leads to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and cost savings from a reduction in worker injury and illness. Furthermore, companies and their workers can better respond to emergencies by providing appropriate first aid treatment to workers and spill response.
Hazardous materials management will be evolving in the workplace. Canada will be adopting the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). GHS is an international standard being implemented by some of our largest trading partners, such as the US, Mexico, China and the European Union. Like WHMIS, GHS requires that product hazards are classified and communicated through labels, data sheets and education. However, GHS also includes a larger number of hazard classes and applies to a wider audience. The US has already begun implementing GHS. Proposed regulations in Canada may be seen as early as Mar 2013. For the latest Update on GHS in Canada, check out this podcast posted on the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety website.
WHMIS legislation is not overly complicated, but does require some consistent effort on behalf of the employer and workers to ensure compliance and to protect people, the environment, infrastructure and equipment. For more information on ensuring your business is WHMIS compliant check out our website.