Canada’s national hazard communication standard – the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) – came into effect on October 31, 1988. The key elements of the system are hazard classification, cautionary labelling of hazardous products, the provision of safety data sheets (SDSs), and worker education and training programs. WHMIS is implemented through interlocking federal, provincial and territorial legislation. At the federal level, the Hazardous Products Act (HPA) and the Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR) require suppliers who sell or import hazardous products intended for use, handling or storage in Canadian workplaces to provide related hazard information through labels and SDSs:
As specified in section 12 and Schedule 1 of the HPA, the HPA does not apply to the sale or importation of certain categories of products. These excluded products include consumer products, cosmetics, drugs, explosives, food, medical devices, pest control products, nuclear substances, hazardous waste, manufactured articles, tobacco and tobacco products, and wood and products made from wood. The HPA does not apply to these products (i.e. labelling and SDS requirements) even if they are intended to be used, handled or stored in Canadian workplaces.
The HPA exclusion applies to “consumer products” as defined in section 2 of the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act (CCPSA):
“consumer product means a product, including its components, parts or accessories, that may reasonably be expected to be obtained by an individual to be used for non-commercial purposes, including for domestic, recreational and sports purposes, and includes its packaging.”
For the purpose of this consultation:
“hazardous consumer product” means a consumer product that would be subject to the HPA were it not for the consumer product exclusion found in Schedule 1 of the HPA.
Hazardous consumer products are regulated under the CCPSA. The information provided on the label for the safe use and handling of these products is based on the potential health effects of short-term exposure to the product. They include hazard symbols and signal words (e.g. “DANGER”), primary hazard statements (e.g. “POISON”), specific hazard statements (e.g. “Contents harmful”), safety instructions (e.g. “Do not swallow”) and first aid statements (e.g. “If swallowed, call a Poison Control Centre or doctor immediately”). While important and helpful, the classification criteria for hazardous consumer product labels do not include effects that can occur over the longer-term or from repeated exposures, such as cancer, reproductive effects or skin sensitization. Moreover, hazardous consumer products are not required to have SDSs.
A potentially wide range of hazardous consumer products intended for sale in retail stores and online to consumers and workers may be excluded from the application of the HPA. For example, brake cleaners or degreasing products that are packaged and sold as consumer products and used by workers in the auto industry would not be required to have HPR-compliant labels or SDSs upon their sale or import in Canada. Therefore, workers using such products may not have the same hazard information that would be available to a worker handling the same products supplied directly to the workplace and not considered a consumer product. In practice, it is possible that some workplaces may require that HPR-compliant labels and SDSs be provided for such products prior to their use in the workplace.
Discussions with stakeholders, including suppliers, employers and organized labour, have raised the issue of the HPA exclusion for consumer products and whether it should be amended to require consumer products intended for use, handling or storage in workplaces to have the necessary hazard information through labels and/or SDSs.
In May 2020, the Office of Audit and Evaluation of Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada completed an internal Evaluation of the Workplace Hazardous Products Program 2014-15 to 2018-19 and found that consumer products are being increasingly used in the workplace without adequate hazard information to allow workers to protect themselves.
In Canada, the HPA requires that hazardous product labels and SDSs be consistent with the requirements of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The GHS prescribes an internationally recognized classification of chemicals and communication of hazard information through labels and SDSs. GHS requirements do not apply to consumer products.
In the European Union (EU), the GHS has been adopted for both consumer and hazardous products, meaning that GHS labels are required for all products before they become available on the market, whether or not the product is intended for the workplace. If sufficient health and safety information is provided on the label of a product sold in the EU, an SDS is not required Title IV, Article 31, Item 4 of the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restrictions of Chemicals regulation, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32006R1907.
In the United States (U.S.), a GHS label is not required for hazardous consumer products. However, a U.S. SDS is required when certain conditions are met (e.g., when the product is purchased using a commercial sales account U.S.Hazard Communication Standard 2012, https://www.osha.gov/dsg/hazcom/HCSFinalRegTxt.html). Labels and SDSs for chemicals that are known to be present in the U.S. workplace are required to be consistent with the GHS.
In addition to the approaches used in EU countries or the U.S., there may be other ways to help ensure Canadian workers have access to appropriate hazard and safety information when using hazardous consumer products in the workplace. These could include, but are not limited to, one or more of the following approaches through legislative and regulatory amendments:
To better understand the scope and scale of hazardous consumer product use in the workplace, their impact on workers’ health and safety, and to inform how best to protect workers who use, handle, and store hazardous consumer products in workplaces, Health Canada is looking to engage stakeholders and partners, through this survey, to:
This survey will provide Health Canada with the comprehensive information needed to consider the most effective approach in addressing the consumer product exclusion under the HPA. This survey also furthers the examination of this matter in line with Health Canada’s Notice of Intent published on October 21, 2017.
This survey will close on March 23, 2021.