WHMIS background

1.1 - Learning outcomes

  • Understand how WHMIS helps protect the health and safety of everyone
  • Identify the roles and responsibilities of members of the University community in order to comply with WHMIS requirements.

1.2 - Purpose

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is a way of informing members of the University community about how to obtain information on hazardous products. WHMIS standardizes the content and type of information that is given to everyone in the workplaces in Canada. The Ontario Ministry of Labour applies and enforces WHMIS requirements in Ontario.

WHMIS informs users of hazardous products of the hazards associated with a product and sets standards for the type and amount of information provided via labeling, risk phrases and product safety data sheets (SDS).

In general, workers should be able to answer the following questions for every hazardous product they use before working with hazardous products:

  • What are the hazards of this product?
  • How do I protect myself?
  • What should I do in an emergency?
  • Where do I find safety data sheets?
  • Where can I get more information?

1.3 - Legislative requirements

WHMIS is governed through coordinated federal, provincial and territorial legislation.

  • Health Canada administers the Hazardous Products Act and the associated Hazardous Products Regulations.
  • Health Canada regulates label requirements and safety data sheet (SDS) content.
  • The Ontario Ministry of Labour establishes WHMIS requirements for Ontario employers (Regulation 860 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act). Requirements include training and mandatory participation by all Ontario employers.

In other words, the Ministry of Labour requires that uOttawa (i.e., the employer) ensures all its workers receive WHMIS training and are informed about the risks they may encounter when working with hazardous products. Every person working or providing services for the University must receive WHMIS training. In some cases, other individuals may also be required to complete WHMIS training. If you’re not certain whether you must complete the training, speak with your supervisor.

WHMIS training ensures that people know how to use, store, handle and discard hazardous products properly by reading labels and understanding safety data sheets (SDSs). The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act provides for workers’ right to know about workplace hazards, and WHMIS helps employers fulfill this obligation.

1.4 - Ensuring compliance

Meeting WHMIS requirements involves three processes:

  • Educating workers
  • Making safety data sheets available
  • Labelling hazardous products

The University is responsible for ensuring that all workers complete WHMIS training, that SDSs are available and that hazardous products are properly labelled.

The University requires that all workers (i.e., support staff, part- and full-time professors, managers, supervisors, CO-OP students, teaching assistants, part-time personnel, contract personnel, deans, directors and senior administrators) complete WHMIS training within the first four weeks of commencing employment. Visitors and volunteers may also be asked to complete WHMIS training. This ensures that all persons working at uOttawa are aware of how to obtain hazard information. WHMIS is employer-specific, which means if you previously completed training at a previous employer, you’ll be asked to complete the uOttawa WHMIS training.

After completing WHMIS training, workers will be able to follow WHMIS requirements in the workplace, including:

  • Any worker discovering a missing or outdated SDS is required to obtain a new copy or report it to their supervisor for correction.
  • Any worker discovering a mislabelled, illegible or missing workplace label is required to correct the problem or report it to a supervisor for correction.
  • Any worker who knows of a person that has not completed WHMIS training must notify the supervisor of the person’s need for WHMIS training.

WHMIS re-training is not explicitly required.

For more about the WHMIS requirements, please consult the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s guide to WHMIS legislation.

1.5 - Roles and responsibilities

All persons working at uOttawa (including support staff, professors, full-time, part-time and contract employees, students, volunteers and anyone receiving a payment for services from the University) have roles and responsibilities related to their own health and safety and that of others. This presentation on roles and responsibilities will help you to identify the general roles and responsibilities of each group of workers related to the environment and to health and safety.

The information presented here supports but does not replace the University’s policies, specifically Policy 77 – Occupational Health and Safety and Procedure 14-1 – Internal Responsibility Procedure for Health and Safety Issues.

WHMIS-specific roles and responsibilities for workplace parties vary depending on your position and include:

  • Ensuring that hazardous products are identified;
  • Obtaining (or preparing, where applicable) current safety data sheets (SDSs) for hazardous products and making those SDSs available to various workplace parties;
  • Ensuring that a worker who is exposed, or likely to be exposed, to a hazardous product receives instruction and training;
  • Assessing all biological and chemical agents that the employer produces for its own use to determine if they are hazardous products.
  • Ensuring that hazardous products within their area of responsibility (work area, physical locations, etc.) are properly labelled;
  • Ensuring SDSs are updated and obtaining updated copies for the hazardous products in their work area;
  • Ensuring that workers under their responsibility wear or use the protective devices and equipment required;
  • Ensuring that a worker who is exposed, or likely to be exposed, to a hazardous product receives instruction and training.
  • Reading and following instructions on product labels and safety data sheets;
  • Following established workplace procedures, including the use of personal protective equipment;
  • Receiving instruction and necessary training (i.e., WHMIS);
  • Asking a supervisor when unsure about how to use or handle a particular hazardous product ;
  • Reporting to the employer or supervisor any contraventions of the legislation or any hazards, such as absence of an SDS for a new product or a label that can no longer be read.

1.6 - Definitions

WHMIS 2015 includes some important definitions and distinctions that workers need to understand.

  • SDS - Safety Data Sheet: A SDS is the term used for hazard-specific information about the product. The SDS has 16 sections, rather than the nine sections of the MSDS. The SDS in WHMIS 2015 provides greater information than the traditional MSDS.
  • Hazard Group: The primary division of hazards. There are three hazard groups in WHMIS 2015:
    • Physical hazards
    • Health hazards
    • Environmental hazards

It is quite possible for a single hazardous product to fall under more than one hazard group.

  • Class: The term used to describe different types of hazards under the hazard group. For example, the gases under pressure class is in the physical hazards group.
  • Category: Each class has subsections, called categories, which are assigned numbers (or letters) with 1 (or A) being the most hazardous. The lower the number, the more significant the hazard.
  • Engineering control: includes designs or modifications to plants, equipment, ventilation systems, and processes that reduce the source of exposure.
  • Hazard statement: Each hazard class category has a standardized statement describing the hazard. This statement appears on both the label and the SDS.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE): equipment worn by individuals to reduce exposure such as contact with chemicals or exposure to noise.
  • Signal word: There are two signal words: Danger and Warning. These words communicate the level of hazard on both the label and the SDS. For example:
    • A category 1 substance would depict the word Danger on the label and SDS.
    • A substance with a less-serious hazard would depict the word Warning on the label and SDS.
  • Significant new data: In the context of updating SDS sheets and labels of hazardous products, significant new data means information about a product that would:
    • change its classification in a category or subcategory of a hazard class,
    • result in reclassification to another class or
    • change the method of handling it safely.