Consulting on an integrated strategy for the protection of Canadian workers from exposure to chemicals

Current status: Open

Opened on July 11, 2019, and will close to new input on August 30, 2019.

Purpose

The purpose of this consultation document is to seek input from the public on proposed actions for the protection of Canadian workers from exposure to chemicals of concern. We are exploring opportunities to expand, strengthen and integrate existing approaches, and seeking input on this document is part of continuing consideration of how to best protect Canadian workers from exposure to chemicals of concern.

Background

Worker protection from hazardous products

Worker protection is a shared responsibility in Canada, and federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) governments have legislation in place to help protect Canadian workers from chemicals of concern. The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System is Canada's national system for classifying the hazards of workplace chemicals and communicating hazard and safety information to employers and workers. WHMIS is implemented through federal (F) [Health Canada (HC) and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC)] as well as, provincial and territorial (PT) legislation.

HC currently administers the Hazardous Products Act (HPA), Hazardous Materials Information Review Act (HMIRA), which outline supplier requirements for communicating hazards associated with products used, handled, or stored in Canadian workplaces. While FPT-level occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation covers workplace labelling, access to SDSs, mitigation of workplace hazards, and worker education programs, specific requirements vary among provinces and territories. All jurisdictions, however, require internal responsibility systems based on employee-employer partnerships to help ensure a safe and healthy workplace.

Chemicals Management Plan (CMP)

The CMP is a Government of Canada initiative aimed at reducing the risks posed by chemicals to Canadians and their environment. Under the auspices of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), the CMP builds on previous initiatives by assessing chemicals used in Canada and by taking action on chemicals found to be harmful to human health and/or the environment.

Under the CMP, HC administers robust processes and approaches to help protect Canadians from exposure to chemicals of concern, including gathering information on chemicals, communicating broadly about which chemicals are priorities for risk assessment, conducting research, monitoring and surveillance, and risk assessment and risk management strategies.

The original objective of the CMP, addressing 4,300 chemical substances identified as priorities, is nearing completion. The government is now focusing on developing its strategy for the next phase of chemicals management in Canada as part of CMP modernization.

The issue: Considering occupational exposure in CMP modernization

While CEPA 1999 is broad in scope, occupational exposure has not been included in risk assessments or risk management carried out under the CMP. This is a departure from the practices of most other international chemicals management agencies, where occupational exposure is often the driver for risk management. The WHMIS system currently operates in parallel with CMP, but there is very little integration between the two programs.

The Government of Canada is exploring approaches to modernize chemicals management in Canada. HC recognizes that enhancing the protection of Canadians from exposure to chemicals in the workplace is a key area of interest for stakeholders, and is exploring options to better integrate the WHMIS program and the CMP.

A path forward

A comprehensive, integrated strategy that leverages HC's scientific expertise, tools, and processes and promotes the sharing of knowledge and information would be mutually beneficial to all parties in working to enhance the protection of Canadian workers. HC has been working with OHS regulators (ESDC + 13 PT jurisdictional authorities) to explore how occupational health objectives might fit with CMP modernization.

Collaborating with FPT OHS regulators, an integrated strategy could aim to:

Two potential actions have been identified which may help to enhance worker protection in relation to their exposure to chemicals of concern:

  1. Establish an FPT Committee to better coordinate chemicals management for the protection of workers; and
  2. Integrate the federal management of the WHMIS Program under CMP.

The term "OHS regulator" is used throughout this document to refer to the regulators of the 14 jurisdictions in Canada - 1 Federal (Employment and Social Development Canada), 10 provincial and 3 territorial – that administer the OHS legislation applicable within their jurisdiction.

Guiding principles

Work under both of these actions would follow these guiding principles:

Proposed action 1: Establish an FPT committee to better coordinate chemicals management for the protection of workers

It is proposed that a committee, with representation from HC and the OHS regulators ("HC-OHS Regulator Committee"), be created to undertake activities related to:

It is proposed that this committee would build on the existing FPT model for Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines. Like the FPT Committee on Drinking Water, HC would provide a secretariat function, as well as scientific expertise for Committee activities. The outcomes of Committee work (for example, identified priorities, OELs) would be based on consensusFootnote 1. Some of these activities would be led by HC and others would be done through the Committee. Potential roles and scope are described further in the sections below.

Questions:

  • Do you think an inter-governmental committee to guide work on addressing chemical exposures in workplaces would be an effective approach?
  • What factors need to be considered in the development of an FPT Committee on OHS?
  • Does the FPT Committee on Drinking Water serve as a good model for FPT collaboration and coordination on OHS issues?

Possible committee activity A: Prioritization

OHS regulators do not readily have access to the data collected, generated or analyzed by the CMP (for example, data submitted to the New Substances Program or the corresponding risk assessments), nor are OHS priorities considered when identifying priorities for chemicals management through the CMP [Identification of Risk Assessment Priorities (IRAP)]. Access to information received under the CMP on what chemicals are being used in which products, at what quantities, in which industries and in which jurisdictions would support OHS regulators in carrying out their work.

Building on IRAP and the existing FPT model for Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines, it is proposed that the HC-OHS Regulator Committee develop a prioritization framework, including sharing data to prioritize chemicals for further action based on potential concerns related to use, handling or storage in Canadian workplaces.

Public engagement is proposed to be part of this process, so that any person may submit a request to the HC-OHS Regulatory Committee that a chemical be considered a priority for further work.

Potential outcomes of prioritization could include risk assessment, OEL development, or research and monitoring, which are described further in sections below.

Questions:

  • Is this a valuable activity for an HC-OHS Regulator Committee?
  • What are the factors to consider in the development of a prioritization framework?

Possible committee activity B: OEL development

An OEL represents the maximum airborne concentration of a toxic substance to which a worker can be exposed over a period of time without suffering any harmful consequences. There is currently no pan-Canadian organization that develops OELs for use across the country. Further, OELs have not been established for some key workplace chemicals.

Building on the existing FPT model for the Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines, it is proposed that the HC-OHS Regulator Committee also develop OEL or equivalent guidelines that may be implemented by OHS regulators, or used as a guidance tool for employers in their risk management. It is proposed that the HC-OHS Regulator Committee could leverage the existing expertise and processes of the CMP, with HC leading the initial assessment, expert peer review, facilitating the committee discussion on the assessment, making revisions as appropriate, and publishing the draft OEL document for public consultation.

Questions:

  • Is this a valuable activity for an HC-OHS Regulator Committee?
  • What factors should be considered when prioritizing chemicals for OEL development?

Possible committee activity C: Research and monitoring

HC has a world-leading research and monitoring program in environmental health. While it does not have a specific program for projects related to exposure or effects of chemicals used in the workplace, several ad hoc projects have focused on occupational exposure.

OHS regulators do not have a mechanism within the CMP context to direct findings from HC research and monitoring projects to protect Canadian workers.

It is proposed that priorities for research and monitoring would be identified by the HC-OHS Regulator Committee and communicated to HC scientists in a formal "Call for Proposals", which would then be peer-reviewed, consistent with the current approach used at HC. It is anticipated that the HC-OHS Regulator Committee will be able to identify and recommend effective partnerships between HC research scientists and their provincial and territorial counterparts and results would be shared with the HC-OHS Regulator Committee.

Questions:

  • Is this a valuable activity for an HC-OHS Regulator Committee?
  • What factors should be considered when prioritizing chemicals for research and monitoring?

Possible committee activity D: Risk assessment and risk management

Generally speaking, employers in Canada are responsible for knowing which hazardous products are present in their workplace and ensuring the appropriate hazard control measures are in place.

International experience with risk assessment shows that occupational exposure to chemicals of concern is often a driver for risk management, and that there are situations where risks to workers cannot be mitigated using engineering controls, administrative controls or use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

It is proposed that a risk assessment function for the HC-OHS Regulator Committee could include occupational exposure from a variety of mechanisms:

When a risk to workers is identified, the findings of the risk assessment would be communicated to the HC-OHS Regulator Committee. In most cases, it is expected that the risk management of identified risks would fall under the purview of FPT OHS regulators and employers. HC would provide risk communication material in collaboration with the HC-OHS Regulator Committee would further support these risk management activities.

Questions:

  • Is this a valuable activity for an HC-OHS Regulator Committee?
  • What factors should be considered when prioritizing chemicals for risk assessment?

Proposed action 2: Integrate the federal management of the WHMIS Program under CMP

Possible activity A: Strengthen science-based hazard classifications of chemicals

Although there is evidence that workplace exposures to chemicals can pose concerns, in many cases there is little data quantifying the extent and nature of the problem. There is a need for a more strategic and targeted approach to data collection and chemical classification, including focussing on chemicals and workplaces that have the greatest impact on worker health and safety.

It is proposed that HC would strengthen science-based hazard classifications of chemicals used frequently by Canadian workers or that represent a significant hazard to workers. Activities could include:

Questions:

  • Is this a valuable activity?
  • What factors should be considered when developing a targeted approach to chemical classification?
  • What are some sources of data that could be leveraged to support this approach?

Possible activity B: Increase supplier, employer and worker awareness of the dangers associated with the occupational use of hazardous chemicals

The accuracy of supplier SDSs and product labels is critical as it impacts the level of awareness of the entire supply chain. Improved knowledge may lead to the safer handling of chemicals in the workplace, leading to improved worker safety.

It is proposed that HC develop materials in order to enhance awareness of the dangers posed by hazardous chemicals. This would support suppliers in appropriately classifying their products, and empower workers to better protect themselves from occupational exposures. Activities could include the following:

Questions:

  • Is this a valuable activity?
  • Are there specific areas where raising awareness is particularly critical?

Possible activity C: Increase compliance and enforcement footprint under the Hazardous Products Act (HPA)

HC does not currently have in place a formalized process to prioritize compliance verification of hazard communication products based on potential risk in the workplace. Further development in this area would increase HC's ability to proactively identify potential risks and take enforcement action, where necessary, before they have an impact on the health and safety of workers.

It is proposed that HC alter is approach to WHMIS compliance enforcement to target products of high use in the work place or high-risk products, sectors, product classes, or chemical ingredients (for example, carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxicants and respiratory sensitizers).

Questions:

  • Is this a valuable activity?
  • What are some of the elements that should be considered in developing compliance and enforcement priorities for WHMIS?

Conclusion

For more than 30 years, WHMIS has served as an interlocking FPT system for providing information on the safe use of hazardous products in Canadian workplaces; yet, there remain gaps in worker awareness of, and protection from, these hazardous products. This proposal builds on the wealth of data and technical expertise gained through assessment of thousands of substances in the CMP and the experience of the WHMIS program to offer ways to integrate the protection of workers from occupational exposures into the CMP.

This work would look to increase foresight, risk identification/communication, and risk management. The ultimate aim of this work is to move towards a system where suppliers are better equipped to appropriately disclose the hazards associated with their products, where employers have access to accurate hazard information on hazardous chemicals and where workers are adequately informed, and thereby empowered, to protect themselves from occupational exposures to hazardous chemicals.

Footnotes

Footnote 1

OHS regulators can, using their respective legislative authorities, implement OELs that diverge from the HC-OHS Regulators Committee. Furthermore, OHS regulators need not wait for this committee to reach consensus on a subject before initiating action in respect to a chemical of concern to them.

Return to footnote 1 referrer

Footnote 2

OHS regulators can, using their respective legislative authorities, identify priorities that diverge from the HC-OHS Regulator's Committee. Furthermore, OHS regulators need not wait for this committee to reach consensus or for the IRAP process to be complete before initiating action in respect to a chemical of concern to them.

Return to footnote 2 referrer

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