For many, handling, storing or working with chemical products is a regular part of their job. Knowing how these chemicals may affect their health and safety is not only a legal right for workers, it can also reduce injuries and property damage, and save lives.
Every WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) controlled product sold for use in Canada must be accompanied by a current material safety data sheet (MSDS). The MSDS must be specific to the individual product or material (both the product name and supplier on the MSDS must match the material in use). Employers are legally responsible to make the MSDS readily available to employees.
An MSDS is a document prepared by the supplier or manufacturer that contains important information about the potential hazards (health, fire and reactivity) of a chemical product and how to work safely with it. The MSDS also describes how to safely use, store and handle the product and what to do in an emergency. It tells how to recognize symptoms of exposure and what first aid and other procedures might be necessary. If a controlled product is made in the workplace, the employer has a duty to prepare an MSDS for this product.
Under WHMIS law, an MSDS for a controlled product must not be more than three years old. If you are still using a product that you bought more than three years ago, you should contact the manufacturer or supplier again and ask for a newer version of the MSDS. If they are unable to provide you with one (for example, if they no longer make or sell the product), then you should obtain or prepare an updated MSDS yourself or discontinue using the product.
There are nine (9) categories of information that must be present on an MSDS in Canada. These categories are specified in the Controlled Products Regulations and include:
- Product Information (e.g. product identifier (name), manufacturer/ supplier name, address, and emergency phone number)
- Hazardous Ingredients
- Physical Data (e.g. physical state and odour threshold)
- Fire or Explosion Hazard Data
- Reactivity Data (e.g. the names of substances the product may react with)
- Toxicological Properties (health effects)
- Preventive Measures (e.g. engineering controls and personal protective equipment)
- First Aid Measures
- Preparation Information (e.g who prepared the MSDS and the date of preparation)
The Controlled Products Regulations prescribes what information must be present in more detail.
Always be familiar with the hazards of a product before you start using it. You should review the MSDS, match the product name on your container to the one on the MSDS, know the hazards, understand safe handling and storage instructions, and what to do in an emergency. In addition, your employer should supplement the MSDS information with site-specific information and training regarding first aid measures, hazard controls (e.g. required ventilation, gloves) and what to do in case of an emergency (e.g. spill or leak).
If significant new information becomes available before the three years has elapsed it's up to the supplier to update the product label and MSDS. Employers must ensure that every controlled product entering the workplace is accompanied by an up-to-date MSDS. The company's MSDS collection must be widely accessible to workers who may be exposed to the controlled products, and to the health and safety committee or representative. They can be stored in a binder, or digitally on a computer network, just as long as everyone in the workplace has easy access to them at all times.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) offers more information, support and tools on how to use MSDSs and how to comply with the Controlled Products Regulations:
- MSDS Management Service makes it easy to manage your MSDSs.
- CCOHS' e-course WHMIS: Understanding MSDSs and other WHMIS e-courses can help you understand MSDSs and your responsibilities, as can CCOHS' MSDS publications
- Download the free WHMIS hazards symbols poster and WHMIS fact sheets.
- Do you write MSDSs? Learn how CANWrite can help.