What WHMIS 2015 Means for Those Who Handle Hazardous Products in Canada
The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is a national system that provides comprehensive information on the hazards, safe use and handling of hazardous products used in Canadian workplaces. Workers have a right to know about the hazards that may come with the products they handle, use and store. WHMIS helps ensure that adequate information is provided by suppliers to their customers, and by employers to their workers.
WHMIS came into force in 1988 and was updated in February 2015 to align with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). This modification to WHMIS ensures that Canada’s hazard classification and communication is aligned with U.S. regulatory requirements and is consistent with international best practice as laid out in the GHS. As a result of this modification it is now possible for suppliers (manufacturers, importers and distributors) under WHMIS 2015 to meet all Canadian and U.S. requirements using one label and safety data sheet (SDS).
“Those principles of the system remain the same as they were in 1988,” says Rosslynn Miller-Lee, who manages the Assessment, Compliance & Enforcement Division of Health Canada. “What’s changed in terms of the adoption of the GHS in Canada are the criteria that we apply for the classification and the specifics of the communication.”
For example, while warning pictograms under WHMIS were black and white with a round black border, under GHS, such pictograms are contained in a red square. In many cases the pictograms are highly similar, so the labelling should remain familiar to anyone using the product. “If they’re working with the same chemical that they’ve worked with for the past 10 years, the hazards of that chemical haven’t changed,” Miller-Lee says.
The main elements of WHMIS 1988 – product hazard classification, labels, safety data sheets and work
er education and training – are all still required with WHMIS 2015. Suppliers are still obligated to:
- Communicate the hazard through SDS and labels;
- Update labels and SDS when new data becomes available; and
- Disclose any information required to appear on an SDS to a safety or health professional, in an emergency.
What has changed for suppliers are the obligations to prepare and maintain documentation, the names and criteria for the hazard classes, how labels look and what is required on the safety data sheets. In less than a year (June 2017) manufacturers and importers must fully comply with WHMIS 2015 requirements. Distributors have until June 1, 2018.
To assist suppliers with the transition, Health Canada has published Phase 1 of their Supplier Technical Guidance. Request your PDF copy here.