The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is Canada’s national hazard communication standard. The key elements of the system are cautionary labelling of containers of WHMIS “controlled products”, the provision of material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and worker education and training programs.
WHMIS represents an excellent example of synchronization and cooperation amongst the federal, provincial and territorial governments. This coordinated approach avoided duplication, inefficiency through loss of scale and the interprovincial trade barriers that would have been created had each province and territory established its own hazard communication system. The federal Hazardous Products Act established the national standard for chemical classification and hazard communication in Canada and is the foundation for the workers' "right-to-know" legislation enacted in every province and territory. A single national system for a mobile labour force also minimized confusion and facilitated implementation of the system.
Consistent with this synchronized approach, the WHMIS initiative also represents an excellent example of consensus-building public engagement. Industry, organized labour and all governments actively participated in the development of WHMIS, and this national program represents a consensus amongst stakeholders. The program, a shared responsibility, continues to evolve through consensus.
WHMIS is implemented through coordinated federal, provincial and territorial legislation. Supplier labelling and MSDS requirements are set out under the federal Hazardous Products Act and associated Controlled Products Regulations. All of the provincial, territorial and federal agencies responsible for occupational safety and health have established WHMIS employer requirements within their respective jurisdictions. These requirements obligate employers to ensure that controlled products used, stored, handled or disposed of in the workplace are properly labelled, that MSDSs are made available to workers, and that workers receive education and training to ensure the safe storage, handling, use and disposal of controlled products in the workplace.
The National Office of the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System operates through Health Canada. The Office serves as the national coordinator for the panoptic governance and administration of the WHMIS program in Canada. Also, the Office is the national secretariat for this federal, provincial and territorial government partnership program.
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