The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, or WHMIS, is more than just a short course for workers handling pure chemicals.
WHMIS is a Canada-wide system that communicates the dangers and other information about hazardous materials used in the workplace. It does this through labels on containers of hazardous materials, safety data sheets (SDS) with detailed hazard and precautionary information, and worker education programs.
“There are numerous hazardous materials used across a variety of agricultural activities,” says Nicole Hornett, farm safety co-ordinator for Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. “The materials WHMIS covers contain more than just stereotypical industrial chemicals. It includes items you would find on many farms such as fuel, propane, anhydrous ammonia, disinfectants, compressed gases, acetone or spray paint.”
Everyone plays a part in hazardous materials safety — WHMIS’s consistent labelling guidelines and SDS are just the tip of the iceberg. WHMIS clarifies the roles that suppliers, employers and employees have regarding hazardous materials.
Suppliers label containers according to the guidelines and provide a current SDS to customers. The label must clearly identify the contents of the hazardous material and the SDS explains what the hazards are.
Employers plan and conduct hazardous materials orientation, education and training programs for workers. They must also ensure products are properly labelled, securely stored and that the SDS is readily available to all workers for all products.
Workers participate in the training programs and apply the knowledge to working safely. They promptly report missing or illegible labels, SDSs or signs. They also report unsafe acts.
Children and visitors are not permitted in hazardous materials storage areas. They need to be kept away from active work areas where there is a risk of exposure to a hazard.
“Farmers looking for more information on hazardous materials can check out the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS),” says Hornett. “It has recently launched a national website dedicated to WHMIS which makes it easier for everyone to access information.”
The new website features up-to-date reference manuals, fact sheets, laws, worksite posters, e-courses and webinars. Farmers can access WHMIS information at whmis.org, or call CCOHS’s toll-free number 1-800-668-4284.