How do these Canadian companies keep their workers safe while handling potentially hazardous materials or dangerous chemicals? Five words: Workplace Hazardous Material Information System or WHMIS as it is referred to in Canada. If you are a worker in Canada chances are you have had this training in the workplace. With new GHS requirements there are changes coming forth that will effect WHMIS and employee safety training.
The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHIMS) is what Canada calls its system of classification for hazardous substances, according to the Canadian Center for Occupational Safety and Health. It was implemented on October 31, 1988 by the Canada’s Department of Health or Health Canada. In French, the WHMIS is known as SIMDUT, or the Système d’information sur les matières dangereuses utilisées au travail.
WHMIS covers a standardized system of categorizing hazards and substances, a material safety data sheet, and recommendations for safe handling for each identified hazard. Workplaces in Canada where hazardous materials are kept, handled and disposed of, as well as US companies exporting hazardous materials to Canadian companies, have to be familiar with the elements of the WHMIS.
WHMIS in Focus: Elements
Like OSHA’s Hazardous Communication Standard, WHMIS is all about labeling hazardous materials properly, providing workers material safety data sheets (MSDS) or SDS under new GHS regulations, that are accessible from their work site, hazardous materials handling education and training.
WHMIS controlled materials are categorized into six hazard classes, represented by eight hazard symbols, according to Work Safe BC.
Labels are used in the WHMIS to help workers recognize the hazards associated with the controlled product and to provide them information on how to handle them. There are two types of WHMIS labels: the supplier label and workplace label. The supplier label contains the product name, first aid measures, hazard symbols, supplier identifier, risk phrases, reference to MSDSs, and precautionary measures. The workplace label contains the product name, safe handling procedures, and reference to the MSDSs.
The MSDSs meanwhile is composed of 9 sections, and provide comprehensive information on the safe handling of WHMIS controlled products. The MSDSs also offers workers information on hazardous substances as well as emergency response procedures.
Benefits of the WHMIS
One of the many great benefits—and perhaps the most important of all— of the WHMIS is reduced workers’ compensations, and the prevention of injuries and deaths at workplaces. The WHMIS system also streamlines communication between companies in federal, provincial and territorial jurisdiction, when it comes to transporting and trading hazardous materials.
Similarities to the HCS and GHS
The WHMIS is similar to the United States’ Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Hazard Communication Standard program or HCS, and the United Nation’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, or GHS. The CCOHS said that following the implementation of GHS in Canada, certain changes to the WHMIS are to be expected.
Sample Differences with OSHA
The table below illustrates the slight differences when it comes to definitions and values of certain hazards. It is for this reason that the GHS was developed, per OSHA.
Exporting Hazardous Substances to Canada
The US Department of Commerce and Health Canada helps US companies dealing with Canadian companies on how to be WHMIS-compliant, according to Chron.com. The WHMIS website also provides substantial information for US manufacturers who need guidance on exporting hazardous materials to Canada, and observing the provisions of the WHMIS.