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The Definition of “WHMIS”

The definition of WHMIS is “Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System”. The abbreviation is commonly pronounced as “WIM-IS”, and is the national hazard communication standard in Canada. There are numerous elements to the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, including: worker education and training programs, the provision of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and cautionary labeling of hazardous controlled products. What is a “controlled” product? This is simply a product/substance/chemical which is regulated under WHMIS legislation.

On October 31st, 1988 – WHMIS became a Canadian law. It was developed by a series of representatives from Industry & Labour, and Government. Many people question who ultimately enforces this law. On a provincial level, it is enforced by provincial or territorial Health & Safety Agencies. Federally speaking, WHMIS is enforced by HR Development Canada (Labour Branch).

WHMIS was created to assist Canadian workers in their “right to know” about the hazards associated with the products, chemicals and materials that they handle on a daily basis. This system helps to educate workers, and build their knowledge on safe practices and preventive measures in the workplace. Having specific training and knowledge empowers employees, and lowers the risk of workplace health and safety incidents.

There are various levels of responsibility, depending on an individual’s role. Suppliers, workers and employers all have some responsibility, when everyone is doing their part – a safe and successful workplace is achievable. Let’s take a closer look at these three areas of responsibility.

A supplier is defined as the person who sells or imports products. When a supplier sells a controlled product to a customer, they must affix the appropriate WHMIS label on the packaging, and include an up-to-date MSDS Sheet with the shipment.

The employer generally deals directly with the supplier, and enters into contractual agreements to purchase products. The employer is responsible for establishing educational and training programs, ensuring that controlled products are labeled, and that an MSDS is readily available for workers using these specific products. It is also the responsibility of the employer to maintain the MSDS library and replace sheets as they reach their expiration date.

The worker’s responsibilities vary greatly from those of the supplier and the employer. It is expected that each worker actively participate in the training programs required, and that they use the knowledge gained to work safely and effectively in the workplace. If the worker ever witnesses an un-safe act, or notices anything that would create non-compliance (for example: a missing label, or expired MSDS) they must notify the employer immediately.

As you can see, the definition of WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) is not simple. It is important that every supplier, employer and worker be WHMIS certified. Certification, training and knowledge will help to breed healthier and safer workspaces for Canadian businesses.

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