WHMIS: What You Need to Know

Introduction

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS for short) is a comprehensive national system for safe management of hazardous chemicals which is legislated by the federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdictions. WHMIS is a tripartite effort of labour, industry, and government which took several years to develop; it is unique in that it represents a consensus of these three groups.

WHMIS is intended to be an all-inclusive system that can be accessed by Canadian workers, and allows workers to obtain health and safety information pertaining to hazardous products used in the workplace. Under WHMIS legislation, workers have the right to be informed about hazardous products they use and/or come in contact to in the workplace. Workers are to use the information to reduce their exposure to and take the necessary precautions to prevent any adverse outcomes associated to hazardous products. The overall goal of WHMIS is to reduce injury and disease by communicating specific health and safety information about hazardous products in the workplace to workers.

WHMIS came into effect in 1988, but has been updated in early 2015 to reflect the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) initiative developed by the United Nations. GHS does not replace WHMIS-rather WHMIS is aligned with GHS. The goal of GHS is to have a standardized set of rules for classifying hazards and labelling chemical products that is to be adopted and used globally. The original WHMIS is now referred to as WHMIS 1988 and the updated version is called WHMIS 2015. The ultimate goal is to create a safer workplace by providing workers with the knowledge and tools to enable them to work safely.

Key changes from WHMIS 1988 to WHMIS 2015 include the following:

  • New Supplier Label requirements
  • New hazard classes
  • More comprehensive hazard classification criteria. Update allows for the ability to indicate severity of hazards.
  • Physical Hazard criteria are aligned with the Transport of Dangerous Goods (TDG) Regulations.
  • Standardized language of hazard and precautionary statements.
  • Safety Data Sheets, or SDSs (previously called material safety data sheets, or MSDSs, in WHMIS 1988), follows a standardized 16-section format with specific information requirements.

Key components of WHMIS 2015:

 

  • Classification:

WHMIS 2015 divides hazardous products into two major groups: physical hazards and health hazards.

The two major groups of hazards can be further subdivided into classes. Some of the classes can also be divided into categories. Each class of hazard is depicted by a pictogram (symbol enclosed in a red diamond-shaped border) which identifies hazards specific to that class.

  • WHMIS Labels:

Labels on hazardous products are critical to alerting workers of the product identity, associated hazards, and precautionary measures to be taken. Under WHMIS 2015, both the wording of the hazards and labelling order has been standardized to follow a specific format.

  • Safety data sheets (SDSs):

SDSs provide detailed hazard and precautionary information for products. Under WHMIS 2015, SDSs now follow a 16-section standardized format.

  • WHMIS education and training programs:

Employers are required to educate and train workers on how to safely handle and work with hazardous products. Employees must be aware of how WHMIS functions, hazards of hazardous products within the workplace, and safe work procedures that must be followed. In particular, local level training is required such that employees know how to access and understand SDSs.

  • Note: Training is also required for individuals who are somewhat likely to be exposed to hazardous products in the course of their work.

WHMIS Legislation and Exemptions