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Refining WHMIS.

Refining WHMIS

Several decades have passed since it was first realized that many workers involved in the production of beta naphthylamine at a major UK chemical plant eventually died of cancer of the bladder. This compound, and its salts, were subsequently banned throughout Britain under the Carcinogenic Substances Regulations, 1967.

There are similar case histories throughout the world where only through on-the-job exposure has society proven the existence of human carcinogens and other highly toxic substances. Proven meaning that there is irrefutable evidence they have caused cancer and other serious diseases in persons having been exposed.

One reason for the introduction of WHMIS just two years ago was to prevent in Canada those devastating occurrences where serious medical problems become obvious only as a result of worker exposure to hazardous materials and substances in the workplace. WHMIS is stringent in its design and it is certainly right for our times. It is comprehensive too, far more than other similar regulations in other countries, including the United States.

WHMIS in Canada is working very well, but there are signs that the system is running into turbulent times as serious problems and disagreements exist beyond the very basic legislation that gives workers the right to know about the hazards and safe use of materials through training, labels and Material Safety Data Sheets.

In discussing these problem areas, it is now clear that there is a tug-of-war developing between the federal and provincial governments on one hand, and organized labour on the other over exemptions to WHMIS, both with regard to the current WHMIS system and the upcoming WHMIS II. The second phase of WHMIS deals mostly with hazardous products exempted from WHMIS I because they are included in other legislation. Examples are explosives, pesticides, and also hazardous products under the Food and Drugs Act.

Industry and government see certain parts of the current WHMIs regulations to be impracticable. There is some concern, too, that the inclusion in WHMIS II of many of the previously exempted products set out in section 12 of the Hazardous Products Act (explosives, pesticides and hazardous products under the Food and Drugs Act) also lacks practicability. On the other hand, organized labour has, generally speaking, taken a firm position that any hazardous substance in the workplace is a threat to worker safety and should be included in WHMIS II.

Perhaps the greatest number of hazardous products involved in one controversy surfacing from the current WHMIS regulations, are the many thousands of chemicals imported into Canada for use in laboratories. Presently, these products, although in many cases subject to small size exemption for full WHMIS labelling, must contain a reference to the MSDS if one is available. There are also language requirements and the MSDS must meet a strict format.

Most imported laboratory chemicals are from the US and Europe. Labels on European laboratory chemicals have similar requirements to those under Canadian WHMIS, the EEC having mandated the use of hazard symbols, risk phrases and precautionary information. US labels do not require the use of symbols, asking for hazard warnings as appropriate. Specifications for Material Safety Data Sheets are similar in the US (OSHA) and Canada (WHMIS), whereas, although MSDS are required in Europe, the format and content are very much a matter of discretion on the part of the supplier.

All of this means that, with few exceptions, those imported hazardous laboratory chemicals used in Canada do not meet WHMIS regulations. This is especially frustrating for those Canadian companies which have supported WHMIS in spirit by announcing to their employees a company policy of 100% compliance.

It looks as though some relaxation of the requirements will be needed for small quantities of imported laboratory chemicals with small unit sales, many of which are obscure organics for special tests and research purposes.

To take a position of strict compliance would deprive many users of these products as the importer members of the laboratory reagents industry resist modifications to satisfy just a small percentage of world-wide sales. Even US companies show a reluctance to meet Canadian WHMIS, especially since their stand against the use of the French language with Quebec's Official Languages Act was successful. The users in Quebec rightly insisted on these chemicals being available to them, with or without the French language.

The need, therefore, to weigh carefully the benefits with the practicability of full compliance of imported laboratory products is paramount in the present discussions to avoid serious loss of the considerable credibility built up by WHMIS so far.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Chemical Institute of Canada
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:worker exposure to hazardous materials and substances in the workplace.
Author:Adamson, Stan
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Feb 1, 1991
Previous Article:Capillary electrophoresis: the newest analytical separation technique.
Next Article:Biotransformations in Preparative Organic Chemistry.

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