WHMIS: What Does It Mean?

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System – WHMIS – is a major response to Canadian workers’ right to know more about safety and health hazards of materials used in the workplace.

WHMIS Legislation, effective October 31, 1988, provides employees, employers, and suppliers nationwide with specific vital information abou hazardous materials (called controlled products in the Legislation).

Booklets are available which are designed to provide basic information about these key requirements of WHMIS:

– Controlled product labeling – which alerts workers to the identity and dangers of products and to basic safety precautions;
– Material safety data sheets (MSDS) – the technical bulletins which provide detailed hazard and precautionary information;
– Worker education and training programs, protection of confidential business information.

WHMIS: Some Background

WHMIS was developed over several years through the collective efforts of Labour, Industry, Federal and Provincial Government and Regulatory Agencies. The cooperative effort began in the early 1980’s. A recommendation for a nationally consistent information system was made to the Canadian Association of Administrator of Labour Legislation (CAALL) by Canadian regulatory agencies in occupational safety and health.
In 1982, a federal/provincial task force completed its report on the feasibility of labeling hazardous substances in the workplace. Says Mr. Riegert: “The consultative process, with the aim of establishing a national system, worked well. Under the chairmanship of Labour Canada, four task groups with representatives from the regulatory agencies dealt with issues such as amendments to existing legislation and regulations, as well as education and
training needs.”

Exposure to hazardous material can contribute to many serious health effects such as kidney or lung damage, sterility, cancer, burns and dermatitis Some materials can cause fires or explosions.

A federal impact analysis on the use of hazardous materials in the workplace estimated that the social cost due to exposure to those material in 1984 was about $600 million. In British Columbia, from 1982 to 1986, workplace exposure to hazardous chemicals resulted in approximately 4,300 wage-loss disease claims , at an estimated compensation cost of $26 million.

Due to the seriousness of such problems and the lack of information available to many employers and employees, it was agreed to implement WHMIS with the goal of reduced incidence of illnesses and injuries caused by hazardous materials in the workplace.