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Environmental and Workplace Health

Frequently Asked Questions

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Find answers to frequently asked questions about the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) related to: 1. Canada's implementation of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS); 2. protecting confidential business information (CBI); 3. employer requirements; 4. workers; and 5. other federal regulatory programs related to chemicals.

  1. Implementation of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) - WHMIS 2015
  2. Protecting Confidential Business Information - Claim for Exemption Process
  3. Employer Requirements
  4. Workers
  5. Other Federal Regulatory Programs Related to Chemicals

1. Implementation of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) - WHMIS 2015

Is WHMIS being replaced by the GHS in Canada?

No. The GHS will modify the well-known, Canadian WHMIS program, updating the pictograms, labels, (material) safety data sheets ((M)SDS) and changing classification requirements.

While WHMIS 2015 includes new harmonized criteria for hazard classification and requirements for labels and SDS, the roles and responsibilities for suppliers, employers and workers have not changed.

Suppliers, defined as persons who, in the course of business, sell or import a hazardous product, will continue to:

  • identify whether their products are hazardous products; and
  • prepare labels and SDSs and provide these to purchasers of hazardous products intended for use in a workplace.

Employers will continue to:

  • educate and train workers on the hazards and safe use of hazardous products in the workplace;
  • ensure that hazardous products are properly labelled;
  • prepare workplace labels and SDSs (as necessary); and
  • ensure appropriate control measures are in place to protect the health and safety of workers.

Workers will continue to:

  • participate in WHMIS and chemical safety training programs;
  • take necessary steps to protect themselves and their co-workers; and
  • participate in identifying and controlling hazards.

Why is Canada implementing the GHS?

The implementation of the GHS will help strengthen worker health and safety in Canada, facilitate trade with the United States (U.S.), and enhance the competitiveness of Canadian suppliers of hazardous workplace chemicals. Adopting the GHS also fulfills the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) commitment to align and synchronize implementation of common classification and labelling requirements for workplace hazardous chemicals.

Another key objective of the implementation of the GHS is to create a system that will allow Canadian and U.S. requirements to be met through the use of a single label and SDS for each hazardous product.

The implementation of the GHS has aligned to a great extent the Canada-U.S. approach to workplace hazardous chemicals while strengthening health and safety protection provided to Canadian workers.

Why is the Government of Canada implementing the GHS before June 1, 2015?

As part of the Canada-U.S. RCC Joint Action Plan, the Government of Canada committed to implement the GHS for workplace chemicals in Canada by June 1, 2015.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, however, implemented the Hazard Communication Standard in March 2012. By June 1, 2015, the transition to GHS-compliant labels and SDSs for U.S. manufacturers and importers will be complete.

The Government of Canada has moved forward with the GHS implementation in Canada to allow an overlapping transition period with the U.S., thereby helping regulatory alignment between the countries. Early implementation will also help to mitigate risks associated with the influx of GHS-based SDSs and labels from international sources.

Health Canada has worked closely with its federal, provincial and territorial counterparts as well as industry and worker organizations to foster continued national consistency in WHMIS.

What is the difference between WHMIS 1988 and WHMIS 2015 after the GHS implementation?

WHMIS was first introduced in 1988 and was modified in February 2015 as a result of the GHS implementation.

"WHMIS 2015" is the term used to describe WHMIS incorporating the GHS through amendments to the Hazardous Products Act (HPA) and the finalization of the Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR), as well as amendments of appropriate occupational health and safety legislation and/or regulations in each federal, provincial and territorial jurisdiction.

WHMIS 2015 aligns Canada's workplace chemical hazard communication with that of our international trading partners who have adopted the GHS.

"WHMIS 1988" is the term used to describe the original WHMIS program pursuant to the old HPA and Controlled Products Regulations (CPR) and occupational health and safety legislation and/or regulations in each federal, provincial and territorial jurisdiction.

  • The amended HPA received Royal Assent on June 19, 2014.
  • The amended HPA and new HPR came into force on February 11, 2015.
  • The CPR and the Ingredient Disclosure List were repealed on February 11, 2015.

Do I have to comply with the GHS immediately? Is there a requirement to comply with both WHMIS 1988 and WHMIS 2015 at the same time?

In order to allow adequate time for suppliers, employers and workers to adjust to the new system, WHMIS 2015 implementation will take place gradually over a three-stage transition period that is synchronized nationally across federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions.

During the initial phase, suppliers must comply with either WHMIS 1988 (repealed CPR/old HPA) or WHMIS 2015 (HPR/new HPA). The classification, label and (M)SDS must be fully compliant with the specific law and regulation chosen, and not a combination of the two.

During transition, a hazardous product that is found to be non-compliant with the CPR must be voluntarily brought into compliance with the CPR, or the supplier will be required to comply with the HPR, no matter which transitional phase applies at the time.

Learn more about the WHMIS transition and how to remain compliant with WHMIS 2015 requirements.

How long will WHMIS transition last?

Health Canada has developed the approach for transition to WHMIS 2015 based on consultation with stakeholders and WHMIS partners. WHMIS transition will occur in three phases, starting with the coming-into-force of the amended HPA and HPR and concluding in December 2018.

During the first phase, which started with the coming-into-force of WHMIS 2015 on February 11, 2015, suppliers are able to comply with either the old HPA and CPR (WHMIS 1988) or the new requirements of the HPA and HPR (WHMIS 2015). The first phase of transition will end on May 31, 2017, at which point the transition for manufacturers and importers of hazardous products would be completed (i.e. manufacturers and importers would be required to only sell or import hazardous products with labels and SDSs that are compliant with WHMIS 2015).

During the second phase, which starts on June 1, 2017 and ends on May 31, 2018, suppliers importing for their own use and distributors would be able to continue to sell and/or import hazardous products with labels and (M)SDSs based on either WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015 requirements.

During the third phase (June 1, 2018 to November 30, 2018), manufacturers, importers, distributors and suppliers importing for their own use are required to sell or import only those hazardous products that are compliant with WHMIS 2015. At this point, transition to WHMIS 2015 is complete for all suppliers.

By December 1, 2018, all suppliers and employers will be required to be in compliance with the new HPA and HPR.

Please direct enquiries related to employer requirements in specific jurisdictions to the federal, provincial and territorial occupational health and safety regulators, found in WHMIS Contacts.

This phased-in approach to WHMIS transition is similar to the approach adopted to implement the GHS in the U.S.

Will the implementation of the GHS reduce the amount of protection provided to Canadian workers?

No. The implementation of the GHS will strengthen safety and health protection provided to Canadian workers while aligning the Canada-U.S. approach to workplace hazardous chemicals.

The December 2011 RCC Action Plan announced a commitment "to align and synchronize implementation of common classification and labelling requirements for workplace hazardous chemicals ...without reducing the level of safety or of protection to workers."

The GHS will improve how information on hazardous products is communicated, by implementing changes to WHMIS 1988.

For example:

  • The pictograms are expected to improve hazard communication;
  • The GHS identifies and addresses hazards not addressed in WHMIS 1988; and,
  • The standardized GHS SDS information requirements provide employers and employees with more detailed information related to hazardous products.

Moreover, WHMIS 2015 will retain existing worker protections such as requirements for labels and SDSs for Biohazardous Infectious Materials.

How does the implementation of the GHS in Canada compare with the implementation in the U.S.?

A key objective of the implementation of the GHS is to create a system that allows Canadian and U.S. requirements to be met through the use of a single label and SDS for each hazardous product. Canada and the U.S. are working to keep variances to a minimum; however, there will be some regulatory variances between the two countries, such as bilingual labels and SDSs requirements in Canada. Variances will be retained only in order to maintain the current level of protection for workers or due to the requirements of the respective legislative frameworks. For more information, see Variances between the HPR and the U.S. Hazardous Communication Standard (2012).

Are the sectors excluded from WHMIS 1988 now covered by WHMIS 2015?

No. The sectors remain excluded in the amended HPA.

While several of these sectors are covered under occupational health and safety regimes in the U.S. and Europe, none have been included in WHMIS as a result of the amendments to the HPA.

As part of Canada's ongoing alignment with the U.S., however, eight of the sectors excluded from WHMIS (consumer products, cosmetics, drugs, explosives, food, medical devices, pest control products, and wood and products made from wood) have been moved from section 12 of the HPA to Schedule 1, "Non-Application of Part II", of the Act.

In the future, any of these eight sectors could be brought under the HPA requirements through a full regulatory process, which would include a cost-benefit analysis, as well as consultations and pre-publication in the Canada Gazette.

The four other excluded sectors (nuclear substance, hazardous waste, tobacco or tobacco products and manufactured articles) will remain in section 12 of the Act.

In the event that the Government of Canada decides to move forward on addressing any of the excluded sectors, how would Health Canada proceed in this matter?

Under the new legislation, eight excluded sectors have been added to Schedule 1, "Non-Application of Part II", of the HPA. In the future, if the Government decides to bring any of these sectors under the HPA requirements, a full regulatory process would have to be undertaken by Health Canada. This would include a cost-benefit analysis, as well as consultations and pre-publication in the Canada Gazette.

In some cases, excluded sectors could also be addressed through other legislation. For the regulation of pesticides, for example, Health Canada intends to implement GHS under the Pest Control Products Act.

Why has Canada not adopted the GHS environmental hazard classes?

WHMIS is limited to chemical hazards for Canadian workplaces. Environmental hazards are not considered workplace hazards; therefore, the GHS environmental hazards classes were not adopted for WHMIS.

2. Protecting Confidential Business Information - Claim for Exemption Process

Formulation and Generic Chemical Identities

What does "100% formulation" mean? Do I have to provide one? Do you need a sample of the product?

The 100% formulation, also referred to as the composition sheet, is a list of each ingredient with its respective concentration in the hazardous product.

Health Canada's review of a claim for exemption includes a determination of whether all ingredients required to be disclosed on a (material) safety data sheet ((M)SDS) have, in fact, been disclosed. To conduct this review, Health Canada requires the 100% composition. Health Canada does not require or accept samples of the product for the registration of a claim for exemption.

May I use the same Generic Chemical Identity (GCI) for more than one confidential hazardous ingredient listed in Part VII of the Claim for Exemption Form?

Yes. If the chemical identity is claimed to be confidential business information (CBI), you must provide the real chemical identity as well as a GCI on Part VII of the form. Should you have two or more CBI ingredients with the same GCI, you have a choice of options:

  • You may either number the GCI, such as alkylamine 1, alkylamine 2, etc., if one or more of the ingredients with the same GCI are referred to on the (M)SDS in the discussion of hazards or toxicity; or
  • if there is no reference on the (M)SDS to any particular ingredient which shares the same GCI, then you may pluralize the GCI; (i.e. alkylamines (3), indicating that there are three alkylamines in the product).

There are applicable LD50/LC50 values that should be disclosed for my CBI ingredient, however, they are so specific that their disclosure may lead to the identification of my CBI. Are there any options to further protect my CBI?

Yes. Attestation forms are available from Health Canada by request at WHMIS-SIMDUT.conf@hc-sc.gc.ca. The Attestation form table gives toxicological endpoint equivalent 'greater than' LD50/LC50 values that can be used on the (M)SDS in lieu of the actual LD50/LC50 values. Attestation forms should be completed and submitted to Health Canada as soon as possible in order to be evaluated with the claim for exemption. Attestation forms are available for either WHMIS 1988 and WHMIS 2015 requirements.

Financial Information

When providing information in support of a claim, is it permissible to include product sales data that relates primarily to my firm's parent company outside of Canada?

You are required to provide economic information such as sales data relating strictly to the entity which files the claim. However, you are free to append additional applicable data pertaining to sales of the controlled product or hazardous product by its parent company or affiliated companies in other parts of the world.

Clear linkages between yourself and these related entities must be established. For example, while the negative economic consequences of the disclosure of CBI might extend beyond a Canadian firm to its foreign parent company, such assertions will not be considered unless the nature of its impact on the claim is clearly described.

Do we have to provide both an estimate of our material financial loss and an estimate of a competitor's material financial gain?

No. You have a choice on the Claim for Exemption Form of providing either your material financial loss or a competitor's material financial gain. Any explanation of how this estimate was calculated (e.g. gross sales, net sales, contribution margin, etc.) must clearly relate to the option you have chosen. All information provided to Health Canada, including financial estimates, is treated as privileged.

Refiles

What is involved in refiling a claim for exemption?

To refile a claim for exemption on your product, you must submit your request the same way you did when you filed your original claim. In Part I of the Claim for Exemption Form under the "Claim Type" button, select "Refiled". Then in Part II of the form indicate the previous Registry Number assigned to that product. The latest product (M)SDS must accompany your claim, along with the 100% formulation and the required fee. If there are any changes (e.g., product name) and/or significant new information since the last filing, you must advise Health Canada as part of your refiled claim. If changes are due to reformatting to WHMIS 2015, the claim will be considered a refiled claim.

Will I be able to use the same Registry Number?

No. The Registry Number assigned to your claim was provided specifically for that particular product claim filing. Although the refiled application will be for the same product, with an identical product formulation, it requires the filing of a new claim. Consequently, there will be a new Registry Number issued for the new claim filing.

What happens should I decide not to reapply?

Upon expiry of the exemption period, the Registry Number associated with your product claim is no longer valid. Should you decide not to file, you have two options:

  • Disclose all confidential business information (CBI) on labels and SDSs of hazardous products AND remove the Registry Number and date of decision from the (M)SDS.
  • Withdraw the product from the Canadian market and/or your own workplace.

Transition

Will the claims for exemptions process for CBI change as a result of the implementation of the GHS?

There are no substantial changes to the claims for exemption process for confidential business information (CBI) as a result of the implementation of WHMIS 2015. For a certain time period, suppliers and employers making claims for exemption may file claims with (M)SDS(s) and labels complying with either WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015. The claimant will have to indicate this information on the application form.

However,

  • as of June 1, 2016, Health Canada will only accept supplier claims under the HMIRA with WHMIS 2015 (GHS) SDSs; and
  • as of December 2017, Health Canada will only accept employer claims with WHMIS 2015 (GHS) SDSs and labels.

Do active claims need to be resubmitted as a result of implementation of WHMIS 2015?

Active claims do not need to be resubmitted as a result of implementation of WHMIS 2015. Product (M)SDSs and labels must, however, comply with the HPA and associated regulations. (Please see the transition page for more information.) If a CBI decision has been issued for a claim prior to the coming-into-force of WHMIS 2015, there is no requirement to submit a WHMIS 2015 SDS or label prior to the expiry of the claim unless specifically requested to do so.

Does the validity period of active claims change as a result of the implementation of the GHS (WHMIS 2015)?

The validity period of active claims remains unchanged as a result of WHMIS 2015.

There are no prescribed concentration ranges under the HPR. If we were using a prescribed concentration range under the CPR, what options do I have under the HPR?

Under the HPR, you must disclose the actual concentration or concentration range of a hazardous component in the hazardous product. You may add the concentration of an ingredient to the claim for exemption and claim it as CBI. For refiled claims, ingredient concentrations that were previously hidden in a CPR prescribed range can be added as CBI in the subsequent filing under WHMIS 2015.

3. Employer Requirements

Where can I learn more about WHMIS requirements for employers under either WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015?

Employer requirements under either WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015 are established by each provincial, territorial and federal agency responsible for occupational safety and health. The Labour Program at Employment and Social Development Canada is responsible for workplaces under federal jurisdiction.

These requirements place an onus on employers to ensure that controlled or hazardous products used, stored, handled or disposed of in the workplace are properly labelled, (M)SDSs are made available to workers, and workers receive education and training to ensure the safe storage, handling, disposal and use of controlled or hazardous products in the workplace.

For further information, please see Next link will take you to another Web site WHMIS.org or contact the occupational health and safety agency in your jurisdiction.

4. Workers

How do workers fit into the WHMIS system?

WHMIS is a shared responsibility between suppliers, employers and workers. Although workers do not have explicit legal responsibilities under WHMIS legislation, workers participate in WHMIS and chemical safety training programs; take necessary steps to protect themselves and their co-workers; and participate in identifying and controlling hazards in the workplace.

WHMIS is implemented through coordinated and interlocking federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) legislation. The FPT agencies responsible for occupational health and safety (OHS) have established WHMIS employer requirements within their respective jurisdictions.

For further information, please see WHMIS.org or contact the occupational health and safety agency in your jurisdiction.

Can an employer require that I have a WHMIS certificate as a condition of employment? Where do I obtain a WHMIS training certificate?

WHMIS laws do not require that workers be issued a "certificate", card nor any other document to demonstrate that they have received generic education or site-specific WHMIS training. Neither Health Canada, nor any other regulatory authority, issues WHMIS certificates to workers. If you are interested in replacing a document which indicates that you have received WHMIS education, please contact the party from whom you obtained it.

Is my WHMIS training transferable to a future employer?

Generic WHMIS education can apply to any workplace. However, exposure to controlled or hazardous products will depend on the nature of the work. Thus, the employer must ensure that the employee receives site-specific training that is applicable to the work that the employee is required to perform.

Must I be trained annually?

In general, employers tend to review their WHMIS training programs at least once per year, and more often if:

  • conditions at the workplace change;
  • new information on a controlled product becomes available; or
  • new products or reformulated products with different hazards are introduced.

The requirement for review does not mean the re-instruction automatically follows, but does identify any need for updating the program and, consequently re-instructing the workers.

Where can I obtain information about the chemicals that I am handling in my workplace or information concerning the hazards associated with the type of work I do?

Next link will take you to another Web site OHS Answers is an information service provided by the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). The information is presented in a question-and-answer format and the topics are based on questions that their enquiries service has received.

Where can I get more information?

For more information regarding workers and WHMIS, please see Next link will take you to another Web site WHMIS.org or contact the occupational health and safety agency in your jurisdiction.

5. Other Federal Regulatory Programs Related to Chemicals

Where can I find information regarding other regulatory programs?

The table below provides links to other regulatory programs administered by Health Canada and/or other Departments / Agencies of the Government of Canada relating to chemical substances and to the movement of such substances as well as to products which may incorporate chemicals in their processing.

Regulatory programs and their responsible authority
Program Responsible Authority
chemicals; intended for use, handling or storage in a workplace Health Canada
chemicals; household Health Canada, Consumer Products Safety
chemicals; "substances lists"
  • Domestic Substances List
  • Export Control List
  • National Pollutant Release Inventory
  • Non-Domestic Substances List
  • Priority Substances List
  • Toxic Substances List
  • Waste or other matter that may be disposed of at sea
Next link will take you to another Web site Environment Canada, CEPA [Canadian Environmental Protection Act] Environmental Registry
consumer products; product safety Health Canada, Consumer Products Safety
consumer products; packaging and labelling (Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act); labelling assessment tools Next link will take you to another Web site Industry Canada, Competition Bureau
cosmetics and personal care products Health Canada, Cosmetics Program
drugs, non-therapeutic Health Canada, Controlled Substance and Precursor Chemicals
drugs, therapeutic Health Canada, Therapeutic Products Directorate and Natural Health Products
drugs, veterinary Health Canada, Bureau of Veterinary Drugs Directorate
explosives Next link will take you to another Web site Natural Resources Canada, Explosives Safety and Security Branch
fertilizers Next link will take you to another Web site Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency
food Health Canada, Food Directorate
hazardous waste
  • Government of Canada's role in managing and reducing waste
  • hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material
  • municipal solid waste
  • Canada's international agreements on movements of waste
  • extended producer responsibility
  • other Canadian jurisdictions
Next link will take you to another Web site Environment Canada, Managing and Reducing Waste
medical devices Health Canada, Therapeutic Products Directorate
nuclear substances Next link will take you to another Web site Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
pesticides Health Canada, Pest Management Regulatory Agency
prescribed substance see "nuclear substances"
radioactive substances Health Canada, Radiation Protection Bureau
tobacco Health Canada, Tobacco Control Programme
transportation, of dangerous goods Next link will take you to another Web site Transport Canada, TDG Directorate
transportation, via pipeline Next link will take you to another Web site National Energy Board
veterinary biologics Next link will take you to another Web site Canadian Food Inspection Agency