Your top WHMIS 2015 questions answered

Your top WHMIS 2015 questions answered
It’s not just the long title, the transition to the new global chemical labelling standard is causing frustration among employers. Editor of COS, Amanda Silliker, sat down with Jan Chappel, senior technical specialist at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), to get the answers to your questions around Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System 2015 (WHMIS 2015) and how Canada adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

Amanda Silliker: What are some of the key deadlines employers need to know?

Jan Chappel: As of February 2015, suppliers are allowed to sell hazardous products that are classified, labelled and have safety data sheets (SDSs) in compliance with WHMIS 2015. (Note the change to SDS from material safety data sheets (MSDSs) as previously used.) However, during the transition to WHMIS 2015, suppliers can choose to use either WHMIS 2015 or WHMIS 1988. Therefore, you may receive products with WHMIS 1988 labels and MSDS from direct suppliers until May 31, 2017, and from distributors until May 31, 2018. It is important to know that suppliers cannot “mix” the WHMIS systems. For example, a product must not have a WHMIS 2015 SDS and a WHMIS 1988 label.

Beginning June 1, 2018, all hazardous products sold must be in compliance with WHMIS 2015. Most employers will be given another six months to clear WHMIS 1988 stock from their workplace. By Dec. 1, 2018, all suppliers and most employers should be using WHMIS 2015 only. Employers should consult their occupational health and safety regulator for information on specific timelines in their jurisdiction. They can also check out for updates. Note that not all jurisdictions have updated their WHMIS legislation yet, so there may be variations to be aware of in the future.

AS: Where has Canada gone beyond GHS and how does this affect employers?

JC: There are differences between “pure” GHS and WHMIS 2015. It helps to think of these as two different systems. To answer where Canada has gone beyond GHS, Health Canada has included the biohazardous infectious materials hazard class in WHMIS 2015. Inclusion of this hazard class maintains the level of protection for workers provided by WHMIS 1988. In addition, either to maintain the level of protection or to harmonize with the implementation of GHS by the United States’ Hazard Communication System 2012 (HCS 2012), the following hazard classes, which are not part of the GHS at this time, are also included in WHMIS 2015:

• combustible dusts
• simple asphyxiants
• pyrophoric gases
• physical hazards not otherwise classified
• health hazards not otherwise classified.

Employers should read the labels and SDSs for the hazardous products they purchase. If you are aware, for example, that the product is a simple asphyxiant but it is not identified as such, contact your supplier. All hazardous products (that is, those products that meet the WHMIS 2015 criteria) used, handled or stored in Canadian workplaces must comply with the requirements of WHMIS 2015. If the supplier is foreign and cannot or will not meet all of WHMIS 2015 requirements, compliance becomes the employer’s responsibility.

AS: I see that Health Canada did not adopt explosives. Is this covered somewhere else? Is there anything else it did not adopt?

JC: True. Health Canada did not adopt the explosives hazard class as detailed by GHS. Currently, explosives are covered by the Explosives Act. Health Canada also did not adopt any of the environmental hazard classes and some of the lowest hazard categories within a hazard class (such as Acute Toxicity – Category 5).

AS: What does the exclusion of some GHS classes mean for employers?

JC: Workplaces are required to follow any legislation that may apply to the excluded products. In terms of WHMIS labelling or SDSs, you may still see explosives or the environmental hazard classes listed. Having additional information on a label or SDS is considered OK as long as that information does not contradict the information that is required by WHMIS.

AS: WHMIS 1988 used to exclude other products such as pesticides and consumer goods. Is this still the case and what does an employer have to do if these products are used in the workplace?

JC: The exclusions under WHMIS 2015 are the same as WHMIS 1988. They include products such as pest control products and manufactured articles. Many of these products are covered under other legislation.

As before, employers must still provide education and training on how to work safely with all products, regardless of whether the product falls under WHMIS or not. The most common example is consumer products — those products that can be purchased in a store and are generally intended to be used in the home. They often include cleaning products, adhesives or lubricants.

A comprehensive chemical safety program in the workplace would include hazardous products as regulated by WHMIS and any other products that a worker may be exposed to (which includes consumer products).

AS: What education and training do employers need to provide?

JC: All workers must learn about the WHMIS system and job-specific health and safety information for hazardous products. The hazard information should include the information received from the supplier as well as any other information that the employer is aware of about the use, storage and handling of each product.

As to what education and training must be provided, workers should be able to answer these questions for every hazardous product they work with or may be exposed to:

• What are the hazards of the product?
• How do I protect myself from those hazards?
• What do I do in case of an emergency?
• Where can I get further information?

Education teaches workers the principles of WHMIS and the meaning of the information on labels and SDSs. Topics include:

• WHMIS background (purpose, legislation, rights and responsibilities)
• hazard classes and categories
• SDSs and labels (purpose, required content and significance)
• sources of additional information.

Workplace-specific training teaches workers how to work safely with hazardous products. Training is specific to the workplace and includes:

• specific legislation for your jurisdiction
• how to identify hazardous products and their hazards
• how to access SDSs
• site-specific procedures for working safely with hazardous products (such as storage, handling and specific personal protective equipment).

AS: How often do employers have to provide this education and training?

JC: This is an interesting question. It is the provincial/territorial/federal jurisdictional legislation that outlines the minimum requirements for education and training. These requirements have been commonly misunderstood. There is no annual requirement for WHMIS education and training.

Some jurisdictions do require employers to undertake an annual review of the education and training program or to review the program whenever work conditions or hazards change or new information becomes available. This review does not necessarily mean that re-training is always required, but reviewing the program will identify whether or not it should be provided.

When an inspector arrives, he will ask workers to show they understand the WHMIS system, the hazards of the products they work with and the safe use of hazardous products in the workplace. It is up to the employer to decide how often education and training must be done to meet these requirements.

Remember, not all jurisdictions have updated their WHMIS legislation yet so there may be variations to be aware of in the future.

AS: How do employers educate and train if both WHMIS 1988 and 2015 are in the workplace?

JC: The laws do not state how to educate and train workers. That decision is up to the employer. However, to ensure worker protection, employers should indeed educate and train workers about WHMIS 2015 as new labels and SDSs begin to appear in their workplaces. If WHMIS 1988 controlled products are still in use, employers do have to continue to provide that education and training as well.

AS: Are you saying an employer probably has to educate and train in both WHMIS 1988 and 2015?

JC: Most likely. I know it means more work during the transition period; however, if employers have hazardous (or controlled) products in their workplace that comply with WHMIS 1988 and WHMIS 2015, workers need to understand both systems.

At the end of the day, it’s all about worker protection. Workers must be familiar with any hazard communication system used in the workplace. Once WHMIS 1988 products have cleared the workplace, you will no longer need to train for that system.

AS: Do employers need to maintain two sets of MSDSs/SDSs?

JC: Employers will need to maintain the WHMIS 1988 MSDS and the WHMIS 2015 SDS if they have a hazardous product in the workplace that has been classified and labelled under both systems. Both the employer and its workers will need to be able to match the product label to the exact safety data sheet that accompanies that product.

AS: What are an employer’s responsibilities — not a supplier’s — around making sure proper labels are on hazardous products?

JC: In most cases, suppliers are responsible for labelling the hazardous products that they provide to their customers.

Employers are responsible for making sure that hazardous products that come into the workplace are indeed correctly labelled and they need to prepare and apply a workplace label when appropriate. Workplace labels are generally required when the supplier label becomes illegible or is accidentally removed or detached; when the container is part of a multi-container shipment and the individual containers do not have supplier labels on them; when hazardous products are decanted from their original containers; and for employer-produced hazardous products.

Workplace labels must contain a product identifier identical to the one used on the corresponding SDS and information for the safe handling of the hazardous product. The employer should also ensure that an SDS, if supplied or produced, is available.

AS: I’m hearing different things about the three-year updating rule for SDSs. Some people say it’s gone, but a safety manager in British Columbia told me it’s not. Is this still a requirement?

JC: I agree, it is a bit confusing. For suppliers, the three-year rule for updating an SDS when there is no new information available has not been retained in WHMIS 2015. The SDS must be current at the time of sale and suppliers must update the SDS within 90 days when significant new data becomes available. Significant new data means any new data that affects how a product is classified or data that changes the ways to protect against the hazard.

For products sold within the 90-day period, suppliers are required to communicate the significant new data and the date upon which it became available, in writing, to their customers. Employers are required to immediately make these updated SDSs available to their workers.

Note there is no requirement for suppliers to inform past purchasers about these updates — suppliers are only required to provide a current SDS at the time of sale.

For employers, some jurisdictions, such as B.C. and Yukon, are requiring the employer to contact the supplier every three years to request an up-to-date SDS. An employer would receive either an updated SDS or written confirmation from the supplier that the SDS has not changed.

If the employer is not able to receive either a new SDS or confirmation of currency, the employer becomes responsible for updating the SDS if any new significant data or hazard information applies based on the ingredients disclosed in that document.

Not all jurisdictions require this contact every three years. For example, Quebec and Manitoba do not state a time period. Employers must confirm with their jurisdiction what requirements apply.

AS: At the end of the day, what has changed?

JC: Employers should be aware of the following:

• Since products are classified using new criteria, products that were previously not covered by WHMIS 1988 may now be included under WHMIS 2015.
• In many cases, hazardous products will have more meaningful hazard class names.
• WHMIS 2015 also has new requirements for SDSs and labels; therefore, updated education and training of the workforce is required.

AS: What has not changed?

JC: Employers that purchase hazardous products must have a WHMIS program in place. This requirement means when a hazardous product is used in the workplace, employers are still required to:

• educate and train workers on the hazards and safe use of products
• ensure that hazardous products are properly labelled
• prepare workplace labels, as needed
• prepare SDSs, as necessary (for example, if an employer manufactures a hazardous product that is used on-site)
• provide access to up-to-date SDSs to workers
• ensure appropriate control measures are in place to protect the health and safety of workers.