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What is the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)?

Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is Canada's national standard for communicating information about hazardous workplace products.

WHMIS is incorporated into the Occupational Health and Safety Act and is law in the province of Ontario. This legislation states that if you work with, or in proximity, to controlled products your employer must take several steps to insure that the information you need to work safely with those hazardous products is available to you and understood.

The main elements of WHMIS are:

Product classification - products intended for use in the workplace are classified based on their hazardous properties.

Labels - provide basic information that a worker needs to know to safely use a hazardous product.

Safety Data Sheets - supplement the label with more detailed information about a product's physical and chemical characteristics, its hazardous properties and necessary handling precautions.

Worker Education - ensures workers understand the information on labels and safety data sheets and can apply this knowledge on the job. In general, workers should be able to answer the following questions for every hazardous product they use.

  1. What are the hazards of this product?
  2. How do I protect myself?
  3. What should I do in an emergency?
  4. Where is the safety data sheet? Where can I get more information?

WHMIS training is online at University of Waterloo and the training is valid for 5 years, after which time UWaterloo students/employees must re-take the WHMIS training.

Online modules for WHMIS can be found under the training programs page.

The WHMIS regulations have specific requirements for suppliers, employers and workers.

Suppliers

Anyone who manufactures, imports, distributes, repackages or sells controlled products as defined by the Hazardous Products Act and Controlled Products Regulations must:

  • Determine which of their products are "controlled products"
  • Assess applicable health and safety information, and
  • Transmit/obtain or prepare the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and apply a label as a condition of sale/importation

Employers

That purchase, use, deploy, manufacture or dispose of controlled products must:

  • Ensure that all controlled products on site are properly labelled and current MSDS are readily available to workers
  • Provide WHMIS worker education and training and to apply appropriate workplace control measures to ensure the health and safety of workers

Workers

Who use, handle, dispose or are exposed to controlled products must:

  • Participate in the education and training programs on controlled products
  • Take necessary steps to protect themselves and their co-workers, and
  • Participate in identifying and eliminating risks

Laboratories and laboratory samples

Under WHMIS 2015, the exemptions that previously applied to products originating from a laboratory supply house and intended for use in a laboratory have been eliminated. However, specific provisions for laboratory samples still exist. A laboratory sample is defined as “a sample of a hazardous product that is packaged in a container that contains less than 10 kg of the hazardous product and that is intended solely to be tested in a laboratory but does not include a sample that is to be used:

  1. by the laboratory for testing other products, mixtures, materials or substances; or
  2. for educational or demonstration purposes” (subsection 1(1), WHMIS Reg.).

Laboratory samples received from a supplier

The federal HPR provides certain exemptions to suppliers respecting labels and SDSs for samples of hazardous products sent to a laboratory for analysis (i.e. possession of the sample has been transferred but not ownership). The employer at a laboratory receiving a sample of a hazardous product does not have to obtain a full supplier label if:

  • the laboratory sample is exempt from labelling requirements under the HPR, and
  • an abbreviated supplier label that discloses the following information is provided:
    1. The chemical name or generic chemical name, if known to the supplier, of every material or substance in the sample that,
      1. individually, is classified in a category or subcategory of a hazard class listed in the Hazardous Products Act (Canada) and, is present above the concentration limit designated for that category or subcategory, and
      2. in a mixture, is present at a concentration that results in the mixture being classified in a category or subcategory of a hazard class.

The employer is not required to obtain a supplier SDS for a laboratory sample if the supplier is not required to prepare one (subsection 17(1), WHMIS Reg.). Under the HPR, a supplier is exempted from providing a SDS for a laboratory sample if:

  • the chemical name and concentration of the hazardous product or its ingredients are unknown, or
  • the hazardous product from which the sample originates has not been offered for sale (subsection 5(4), HPR).

In addition, if a laboratory sample is classified only as Biohazardous Infectious Material- Category 1, and possession but not ownership is transferred, the sample does not require a label or SDS (subsection 5(3), HPR).

If a lab sample is transferred or decanted from the supplier’s original container

No workplace label is required, but the employer must ensure that the lab sample is clearly identified through a combination of identification visible to workers and worker education. The combination of identification and education must enable lab workers handling the sample to readily identify and obtain either the information required on a SDS, if one has been prepared, or the labelling information required on an abbreviated supplier’s label (section 15, WHMIS Reg.).

If a lab sample is produced in the employer’s workplace

No workplace label is required for a laboratory sample that is produced in the employer’s workplace, but the employer must ensure that the sample is clearly identified through a combination of identification visible to workers and worker education. The identification and education must enable lab workers handling the sample to readily identify and obtain either the information required on a SDS, if one has been prepared, or the labelling information required on an abbreviated supplier’s label (section 15, WHMIS Reg.).

No SDS is required for a hazardous product that is a laboratory sample produced by the employer at the workplace (subsection 18(2), WHMIS Reg.).

Hazardous product produced for research and development

No workplace label is required on a hazardous product that is produced in a lab, not removed from the lab, and intended by the employer solely for research and development purposes. Instead the employer must ensure that the hazardous product is clearly identified through a combination of identification and education that enables workers to identify and obtain either the information required on a SDS, if one has been prepared, or such other information as is needed for the safe use, storage and handling of the product (section 16, WHMIS Reg.).

Examples of controlled products at Waterloo

Controlled products are found in every work/study area at UWaterloo, including offices, laboratories and corridors. Controlled products include, but are not limited to:

  • Portable fire extinguishers
  • Cleaning chemicals or other chemicals used in research
  • Most aerosol cans (such as "Dust-Off, "WD-40", etc.)
  • Gas cylinders (helium tanks, etc.)

Under University of Waterloo policy 34 - Health, Safety and Environment, the University insists on compliance with legislative requirements and regulations. UWaterloo endeavours to apply the legislation equally to students and employees.