WHMIS & Hazardous Waste: How to Protect Workers

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The most familiar hallmarks of the WHMIS system are supplier labels and MSDSs. There are some hazardous chemicals and substances (called “controlled products”) that are excluded from label and MSDS requirements and subject to a different set of WHMIS identification requirements to ensure their safe shipment, storage and handling. Hazardous waste, such as waste insulation from an asbestos removal project or used engine oil sent out for recycling, is an example of such a product.

This article will explain the hazardous waste requirements under WHMIS and other laws and how to identify which products in your workplace are considered hazardous waste and so are subject to these requirements. There’s also a chart showing how the laws in each jurisdiction handle the identification of hazardous waste.

MODEL WASTE PROFILE SHEET: Download a Model Waste Profile Sheet that you can adapt and use in your workplace.

Defining Our Terms

The federal Controlled Products Regulations (CPR) under the Hazardous Products Act (HPA) define “hazardous waste” as a controlled product that’s intended for disposal or is sold for recycling or recovery. Most provincial and territorial laws use the same or a similar definition. So we’ll use this definition as well.

HOW TO COMPLY

All Canadian jurisdictions require employers to identify and educate workers about hazardous waste in the workplace in some way. Let’s look at how to comply with each set of requirements in detail.

Complying with Identification Requirements

In general, there are three types of identification required for hazardous waste:

Labels. Fed, BC and QC require the use of labels to identify hazardous waste. (MB requires the use of labels if an employer sells or disposes of hazardous waste to another person or company.) Such labels must typically include all the information that a WHMIS workplace label for controlled products must include:

  • Identification of the controlled product in the hazardous waste;
  • Safe use and handling information; and
  • An indication of whether an MSDS is available.

Placards. Using a label is easy if the hazardous waste is in a container but it’s not practical for waste that isn’t in a container, such as the contents of a tailing pond. In such cases, use a placard instead. The placard should generally:

  • Contain the same information as a WHMIS workplace label;
  • Be posted conspicuously near the hazardous waste; and
  • Be clearly legible.

MSDS or the equivalent. Although BC and MB are the only jurisdictions that require the use of MSDSs or the equivalent for hazardous waste, it’s a good idea for employers in all jurisdictions to consider using them as well. MSDSs or waste profile sheets provide more information than labels or placards and so are better able to ensure the safe handling and storage of hazardous waste. According to a Hazardous Waste Profile Sheet in BC’s WHMIS resource manual, these sheets should contain the following information:

  • Company information;
  • Hazard classification, including the WHMIS class and class under the transportation of dangerous goods laws;
  • Chemical composition of the waste;
  • Physical characteristics of the waste, such as whether it’s a liquid, solid, gas, etc.;
  • Any fire, explosive or radioactivity hazards it poses;
  • Health hazards and toxicological properties, such as whether the waste is an irritant or carcinogen;
  • Preventive measures, including recommended PPE; and
  • First aid measures.

Whether you use an MSDS, waste profile sheet or equivalent document, make sure that it’s readily available to workers who work with or handle the hazardous waste. In addition, give the document to any companies that you sell the hazardous waste to or use to recycle or recover the waste.

Insider Says: Guidelines from NS and ON give examples of other types of acceptable identification of hazardous waste, including colour coded hazardous waste containers and basic warning signs, such as one that says, “Caution—Hazardous Waste.” These guidelines also note that employers in these jurisdictions aren’t required to use workplace labels or prepare MSDSs.

MODEL WASTE PROFILE SHEET: Download a Model Waste Profile Sheet that you can adapt and use in your workplace.

Complying with Training Requirements

The OHS laws also require employers to educate or train workers on hazardous waste. Alberta requires workers to be trained on the safe handling of hazardous waste. And Saskatchewan says that this training must include all the hazard information which the employer is aware of, or ought to be aware of, concerning the hazardous waste. The other jurisdictions typically require “worker education” on hazardous waste without specifying what it should address. But to be effective, such training should, at a minimum, cover:

  • Hazards posed by the waste; and
  • Procedures for the safe use and handling of hazardous waste, including use of PPE.

BOTTOM LINE

The fact that hazardous waste isn’t subject to the same requirements as controlled products under WHMIS doesn’t mean that it doesn’t pose a danger to workers or the environment. By properly identifying hazardous waste and providing sufficient information on its hazards and how to safely store and use it, you’ll ensure that not only your company complies with the law but also workers, neighbouring companies and people and the environment are adequately protected from the hazards posed by such waste.


WHAT THE LAW SAYS

Two sets of laws address the identification of hazardous waste in the workplace: WHMIS and OHS laws. Let’s look at each.

WHMIS Laws

The basic requirements for controlled products are spelled out in a federal statute—the HPA—and the related CPR. The CPR includes the definition of “hazardous waste.” The HPA specifically excludes hazardous waste from the WHMIS supplier label and MSDS requirements for controlled products.

OHS Laws

Each jurisdiction’s OHS law includes WHMIS requirements in either its general OHS regulations—Fed, AB, BC, MB and SK—or a separate WHMIS regulation—NB, NL, NT, NS, NU, ON, PE, QC and YT. The jurisdictions take two approaches to hazardous waste:

General identification and training requirement. Twelve jurisdictions—Fed, AB, NB, NL, NT, NS, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK and YT—exclude hazardous waste from the WHMIS requirements. However, they all require employers to ensure the safe handling and storage of hazardous waste through identification of the waste and worker training. For example, Sec. 3(4) of NL’s WHMIS Regulation excludes hazardous waste from the regulation’s requirements except that employers must ensure the safe handling and storage of hazardous waste generated at the workplace through a combination of identification and worker education. The language in the OHS laws in the other jurisdictions in this group is very similar.

Except for Fed and QC, these jurisdictions don’t specify how hazardous waste should be identified. In fact, some permit the use of “any mode of identification.” The federal OHS Regulations require identification of the controlled products in hazardous waste through either putting a label on or posting a sign near the waste or its container. Québec requires the use of labels or placards identifying hazardous waste and the precautions necessary for their handling or in case of exposure.

Specific hazardous waste requirements. Two jurisdictions—BC and MB—set detailed, specific hazardous waste requirements in the WHMIS sections of their OHS regulations. Like the jurisdictions above, BC requires employers to ensure the safe storage and handling of hazardous waste through worker education and identification. But it goes further in spelling out exactly what kind of identification employers should use:

  • For hazardous waste in containers, employers must attach a WHMIS workplace label containing the information required by the CPR;
  • For waste not in containers, employers must post placards containing the information required on a workplace label; and
  • For all hazardous waste produced, stored, handled or disposed of in the workplace, employers must prepare an MSDS, a hazardous waste profile sheet or the equivalent.

Manitoba’s requirements are similar. Employers must prepare an MSDS for hazardous waste produced, stored, handled or disposed of in the workplace, unless a document that addresses the waste’s composition, hazards and safe measures is available. The MSDS or other document must be readily available to workers and the JHSC or health and safety representative. In addition, if hazardous waste isn’t in a container, employers must post a placard near it containing the information required in a workplace label.

Insider Says: For more information on workplace label requirements.

Guidelines

Outside of BC and MB, the OHS laws don’t say a lot about the identification of hazardous waste. But some jurisdictions do provide additional information on the WHMIS requirements via guidelines, bulletins, etc. For example, some guidelines explain the requirements in detail and give examples of types of hazardous waste and acceptable forms of identification. In addition, BC and Manitoba provide guidance that supplement the detailed hazardous waste requirements set out in their regulations. For instance, Manitoba’s WHMIS guidelines note that waste profile sheets can be used instead of MSDSs.


HAZARDOUS WASTE REQUIREMENTS

Here’s what the laws and guidelines of each jurisdiction say about identification of hazardous waste in the workplace:

FEDERAL: Laws: 1) Sec. 12(e) of the Hazardous Products Act excludes hazardous waste from the requirements of Part 11 (Controlled Products); 2) Sec. 2(2) of the Controlled Products Regulations defines “hazardous waste” as a controlled product that’s intended for disposal or sold for recycling or recovery; 3) Sec. 10.29 of the OHS Regs. defines “hazardous waste” as a controlled product that’s intended solely for disposal or is sold for recycling or recovery; 4) Sec. 10.3(2) says that, except for Sec. 10.43, hazardous waste is excluded from the controlled products requirements; and 5) Sec. 10.43 requires employers to disclose the generic name and hazard information for controlled products in hazardous waste by: a) applying a label to the hazardous waste or its container; or b) posting a sign in a conspicuous place near the waste or its container. Guidelines: According to a newsletter from the National Office of the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, Health Canada (NOW), companies that generate hazardous waste should characterize their waste streams using waste profile sheets. NOW also provides a hazardous waste profile sheet template.

ALBERTA: Laws: 1) Sec. 1 of the OHS Code 2009 defines “hazardous waste” as a controlled product that’s intended for disposal or sold for recycling or recovery; 2) Sec. 395(3)(c) excludes hazardous waste from the requirements of Part 29 (WHMIS); and 3) Sec. 396 says that if a controlled product is hazardous waste generated at the work site, the employer must ensure that it’s stored and handled safely using a combination of: a) any means of identification; and b) instruction of workers on the safe handling of the hazardous waste. Guidelines: The Explanation Guide to Part 29 explains these requirements in more detail.

BRITISH COLUMBIA: Laws: 1) Sec. 5.1 of the OHS Reg. defines “hazardous waste” as a controlled product that’s intended for disposal or is sold for recycling or recovery and “hazardous waste profile sheet” as a written description that identifies hazardous waste’s hazardous characteristics, hazardous ingredients and prescribes safe work procedures for handling, storing, using and disposing of the waste; 2) Sec. 5.3(4) excludes hazardous waste from the WHMIS provisions, except that employers must ensure the safe storage and handling of hazardous waste generated at the workplace through a combination of: a) worker education; and b) the information required by the regulations; 3) Sec. 5.76 requires employers that produce, store, handle or dispose of hazardous waste to ensure that a workplace label is applied to each container of waste or that the information required by the CPR is provided, if applicable; 4) Sec. 5.77 says that for hazardous waste not in containers, employers must post a placard containing the information required for a workplace label that’s conspicuous and clearly legible; 5) Sec. 5.78 requires employers to prepare an MSDS for hazardous waste produced, stored, handled or disposed of in the workplace unless a hazardous waste profile sheet or its equivalent is available; and 6) Sec. 5.79 bars employers from selling or disposing of hazardous waste for use, handling, storage or disposal unless it has a workplace label or placard and the employer gives the receiver an MSDS or hazardous waste profile sheet for the hazardous waste. Guidelines: A WHMIS resource manual explains these requirements in more detail.

MANITOBA: Laws: 1) Sec. 1.1 of the Workplace Health & Safety Regs. defines “hazardous waste” as a controlled product that’s intended solely for disposal or is sold for recycling or recovery; 2) Sec. 35.21(1) requires employers to prepare an MSDS for hazardous waste produced, stored, handled or disposed of in the workplace unless a document that addresses composition, hazards and safe measures for the waste is readily available in the workplace; 3) Sec. 35.21(2) says the MSDS for the waste must be readily accessible to workers who may be exposed to the controlled product and the JHSC or representative; 4) Sec. 35.22 says employers may identify hazardous waste not in a container by posting a placard that discloses the information required for a workplace label and is conspicuous and clearly legible; and 5) Sec. 35.23 bars employers from selling or disposing of hazardous waste unless the employer gives the receiver an MSDS for each controlled product in the hazardous waste and it has a label that complies with workplace label requirements or contains the information required by the CPR. Guidelines: A bulletin on labelling hazardous waste in the workplace explains these requirements in detail. Guidelines note that a similar waste profile sheet may be used instead of an MSDS for hazardous waste.

NEW BRUNSWICK: Laws: 1) Sec. 2.2 of the WHMIS Reg. defines “hazardous waste” as a controlled product that’s intended for disposal or is sold for recycling or recovery; 2) Sec. 3(1)(d) excludes hazardous waste from the regulation’s requirements except as provided; and 3) Sec. 3(3) requires employers to ensure the safe storage and handling of a hazardous waste generated at a place of employment by: a) identification of the hazardous waste; and b) the provision of information, instruction and training to workers. Guidelines: No guidelines.

NEWFOUNDLAND/LABRADOR: Laws: 1) Sec. 2(i) of the WHMIS Reg. defines “hazardous waste” as a controlled product that’s intended for disposal or is sold for recycling or recovery; and 2) Sec. 3(4) excludes hazardous waste from the regulations’ requirements except that employers must ensure the safe storage and handling of hazardous waste generated at the workplace through a combination of: a) a mode of identification; and b) worker education. Guidelines: No guidelines.

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES/NUNAVUT: Laws: 1) Sec. 1 of the WHMIS Regs. defines “hazardous waste” as a controlled product that’s intended for disposal or is sold for recycling or recovery; and 2) Sec. 2(4) excludes hazardous waste from the regulations’ requirements except that employers must ensure the safe storage and handling of hazardous waste generated at the workplace through: a) identification; and b) worker education. Guidelines: No guidelines.

NOVA SCOTIA: Laws: 1) Sec. 1(k) of the WHMIS Reg. defines “hazardous waste” as a controlled product that’s intended for disposal or is sold for recycling or recovery; and Sec. 2(4) excludes hazardous waste from the regulations’ requirements except that employers must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to ensure the safe storage and handling of hazardous waste through a combination of: a) any mode of identification; and b) worker education. Guidelines: A guide to the WHMIS regulations explains these requirements and provides examples of acceptable identification.

ONTARIO: Laws: 1) Sec. 1(1) of the WHMIS Reg. defines “hazardous waste” as a controlled product that’s intended for disposal or is sold for recycling or recovery; and 2) Sec. 4(4) excludes hazardous waste from the regulations’ requirements except that employers must ensure the safe storage and handling of hazardous waste generated at the workplace through a combination of: a) identification; and b) worker education. Guidelines: A guide to the WHMIS regulations explains these requirements and provides examples of acceptable identification.

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND: Laws: 1) Sec. 1(i) of the WHMIS Regs. defines “hazardous waste” as a controlled product that’s intended for disposal or is sold for recycling or recovery; and 2) Sec. 2(4) excludes hazardous waste from the regulations’ requirements except that employers must ensure the safe storage and handling of hazardous waste generated at the workplace through a combination of: a) any mode of identification; and b) worker education. Guidelines: No guidelines.

QUÉBEC: Laws: Sec. 56 of the Reg. Respecting Information on Controlled Products 1) defines “hazardous waste” as a controlled product intended for disposal or which is sold for recycling or recovery; and 2) excludes hazardous waste from the regulations’ requirements except that employers must ensure that the storage and handling of hazardous waste is made securely through the training program and information through labels or placards identifying them and indicating the precautions necessary for their handling or in case of exposure to them. Guidelines: No guidelines.

SASKATCHEWAN: Laws: 1) Sec. 315(f) of the OHS Regs. defines “hazardous waste” as a controlled product that’s  intended for disposal or sold for recycling or recovery; 2) Sec. 316(3) excludes hazardous waste from the requirements except as noted; 3) Sec. 316(4) requires employers to ensure the safe storage and handling of hazardous waste generated at a place of employment through a combination of: a) identification of the hazardous waste; and b) worker training; and 4) Sec. 316(5) says such training must include all hazard information of which the employer is aware, or ought to be aware, concerning the hazardous waste. Guidelines: A fact sheet on WHMIS controlled products notes that hazardous waste doesn’t require a label but must be identified.

YUKON: Laws: 1) Sec. 1 of the WHMIS Regs. defines “hazardous waste” as a controlled product that’s  intended for disposal or sold for recycling or recovery; and 2) Sec. 2(4) excludes hazardous waste from the regulations’ requirements except that employers must ensure the safe storage and handling of hazardous waste generated at the workplace through a combination of: a) any mode of identification; and b) worker education. Guidelines: No guidelines.