This page has been archived.
Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats on the "Contact Us" page.
The Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission is an independent, quasi-judicial agency that is positioned within the health portfolio. Our clients and stakeholders represent industry manufacturers, employers, workers, and governments at the federal, provincial and territorial levels. The Commission's mandate is threefold. First we protect bona fide trade secrets on behalf of the chemical industry. Secondly, we perform health and safety reviews of the documentation associated with the hazardous product which is the subject of the trade secret claim. Thirdly, we provide a tribunal review process where Commission staff decisions are contested. Simply stated the mandate of the Commission is to balance the rights of industry to protect their trade secrets and the rights of those using their products to know the health and safety impacts. In performing our duties and functions, we strive to build a relationship of trust and respect with our clients and stakeholders. It is therefore essential that we perform our mandate with objectivity, neutrality and transparency. The environment in which we operate is complex, international and multi-jurisdictional involving federal, provincial and territorial legislation.
For suppliers and employers in the chemical industry who cite trade secret information as a critical success factor in their business, the economic value of the confidential business information associated with the claims for exemptions they file is significant. This includes cases where the trade secret formulation may be the result of an expensive research and development effort. For those claims processed by the Commission in 2004–2005, and based on information provided by claimants, the collective economic benefit resulting from the protection of claimed trade secret information was estimated to be in the order of $400 million.
While innovation and competitiveness are crucial to a successful industry, it is equally important that the right to withhold trade secret information is balanced with the right of workers to be fully and properly informed on how to safely handle and use claim related controlled products. The Commission's findings of non-compliance (published annually) respecting its statutory review of safety documentation further demonstrate the need for this balance as the Commission issues formal orders, outlining corrective measures to be taken by claimants, for virtually all claims. In 2004–2005, a total of 2,103 violations were ordered to be corrected.
In the coming fiscal year, our goal is to seek support to reintroduce An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act (formerly Bill S-40) which died on the Order Paper upon the dissolution of Parliament. The proposed amendments are important to the Commission, its clients and stakeholders, and will bring to fruition our renewal commitments to improve service delivery while making our program activities more transparent and accountable. These amendments will reduce the time required to review trade secret claims, speed up the correction of the information that workers need to handle hazardous materials safely and expedite the processing of appeals when Commission decisions are challenged. They will reduce the administrative burden for both industry and the Commission. The net result will be earlier access by workers to complete and accurate information on the safe handling of hazardous materials. This can only be positive for workplace safety.
The Commission will also act on its priorities outlined in this plan. In accordance with our multi-year workload estimates, the claims backlog has been reduced. However, our capacity to keep pace with the continued high volume of incoming claims is being challenged. Education, guidance and direction to claimants will remain a focal point of our efforts especially amongst individuals and companies unfamiliar with Canada's regulatory requirements. Outreach activities will continue to ensure public and stakeholder understanding of the Commission's mandate and its relationship and impact on workplace health and safety.
We recognize the importance and necessity of adopting an effective approach to working collaboratively with the federal, provincial and territorial occupational health and safety programs. Indeed we have and will continue to pursue a strong working relationship with our health portfolio partners including other federal departments and agencies.
The Commission will continue to adopt the principles of the Management Accountability Framework (MAF) into our management culture and day-to-day operations. This will ensure a continued focus on effective management of resources and decision making as well as a reinforcement of the importance of public service values, ethics, learning and innovation which are essential in the delivery of results to Canadians and to the development of our program and policies.
As in past years, this fiscal year promises to be an exciting one and I look forward to working with my Council of Governors who collectively represent all clients and stakeholders. Their ongoing support is essential to the successful discharge of our threefold mandate.
President and Chief Executive Officer
I submit for tabling in Parliament, the 2006–2007 Report on Plans and Priorities (RPP) for the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission.
This document has been prepared based on the reporting principles contained in the Guide for the Preparation of Part III of the 2006–2007 Estimates: Reports on Plans and Priorities and Departmental Performance Reports.
President and Chief Executive Officer
In June 2005, the Commission submitted an amendment to Treasury Board Secretariat to change the title of its strategic outcome to better reflect the Commission's legislated mandate: the protection of confidential business information and the protection of employers and workers through material safety data sheet (MSDS) accuracy.
|Old title 2005–2006||New title 2006–2007|
|Trade secret exemptions within the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System to protect confidential business information.1||Trade secret exemptions within WHMIS that balance the right of industry to withhold bona fide confidential business information with the right of employers and workers to be provided with complete and accurate information on the health and safety hazards posed by workplace chemicals.|
Labour, industry and government agree on the importance of reducing illnesses and injuries from hazardous materials in Canadian workplaces. The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), a combination of laws, regulations and procedures, was created in 1987 to help achieve this goal.
WHMIS requires suppliers—including manufacturers, importers and distributors—to provide information on the hazards of chemicals produced or used in Canadian workplaces. It requires cautionary labelling for containers of certain products that are designated under federal regulations and requires their suppliers to provide MSDSs.
Among the required information, each MSDS lists all hazardous ingredients in the product, any toxicological properties, the safety precautions workers need to take when using the product and first aid treatment in case of exposure. Employers must provide this MSDS information, worker training and education programs to employees.
When labour, industry and government agreed to create WHMIS, they recognized the need to balance the rights of:
The Hazardous Materials Information Review Act and its Regulations provide the mechanism to create that balance through the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission (HMIRC). Our Commission is an independent agency with a quasi-judicial role that supports the WHMIS responsibilities and interests of the federal, provincial and territorial governments, workers, employers and the chemical industry.
The Hazardous Materials Information Review Act mandates our Commission to:
The HMIRC mission is to:
If a supplier or employer wants to withhold information that it believes to be a trade secret, it must file a claim with the Commission for exemption from its WHMIS obligations to disclose this information. Our screening officers review these claims against requirements that are set out in:
and then rule on their validity. This process involves communication to avoid or resolve disputes.
As part of this claim review process, our scientific evaluators play a key health and safety role. They review for completeness and accuracy all the health and safety information for each hazardous ingredient provided on the MSDSs and labels associated with a claim for exemption. When our scientific evaluators identify missing or incorrect information, they provide advice to screening officers who then issue formal orders requiring the necessary changes.
Upon requests, we also respond to the information needs from federal, provincial and territorial government health and safety officials respecting claims for exemption to administer and enforce their WHMIS obligations.
HMIRC deals with many WHMIS stakeholders:
As an independent agency, the Commission is a model of industry, labour and government consultation, consensus and cooperation. Our adjudicative efforts must result in a fair balance between the right of workers to know and the right of suppliers and employers to safeguard confidential business information. We make a tangible contribution to worker health and safety and are a strategic partner to industry and employers. Our work also supports the federal, provincial and territorial governments in the delivery of their occupational safety and health regulatory activities, making HMIRC one of very few adjudicative bodies that represent multiple levels of government in Canada.
The HMIRC governance structure is a model of collaboration. Our Council of Governors provides strategic advice and guidance to the Commission and makes recommendations to the Minister of Health. It consists of up to 18 members: two representing workers, one each representing suppliers and employers, one representing the federal department of Labour, and between four and thirteen representing the provincial and territorial governments responsible for occupational safety and health.
The HMIRC President and Chief Executive Officer supervises and directs the work of the Commission. He is accountable to Parliament through the Minister of Health.
HMIRC has defined its vision as:
The HMIRC objectives are to:
HMIRC recognizes that continuous improvement is critical in order to remain relevant and to provide effective and efficient performance and service quality. We have identified the values and operating principles that foster continuous improvement in our operations.
FAIRNESS—in our ability to provide services and to perform statutory functions.
TIMELINESS—in our ability to provide services within established and reasonable time frames.
ACCESSIBILITY and TRANSPARENCY—in our ability to provide information and services simply and clearly and with policies and procedures that are understandable to everyone.
ACCOUNTABILITY—in our ability to propose legislative approaches only when they meet rigorous cost-benefit analysis and to be accountable for programs and the impact of decisions, while providing services in a manner that is cost-effective for everyone involved.
QUALITY and CONSISTENCY—in our ability to render accurate, relevant, dependable, understandable, predictable and error-free decisions, while ensuring consistent, firm enforcement of the regulations.
COMPETENCY and RESPECT—in our ability to provide services based on a high level of skill, knowledge, scientific and technical competence, and to demonstrate respect and professionalism to everyone who comes into contact with the Commission.
SECURITY and CONFIDENTIALITY—in our ability to store and handle the trade secrets of our claimants.
|Our mandate is to provide a mechanism for protecting the trade secrets of those companies which manufacture and/or supply hazardous materials and to accurately inform Canadian employees who work with such materials about the intrinsic health and safety hazards.|
Claims exemption process
As a small organization with a very specific mandate within Canada's Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, and taking into account our clear links to stakeholders and limited budget, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission is constantly alert to issues that may affect our operations. We know that some factors are unpredictable. For example, we cannot forecast with great accuracy the number of claims for exemption that chemical manufacturers, importers and suppliers will file for our review and decision making. Our resources are also stretched by requirements to meet increased management reporting requirements as part of the commitment to enhanced accountability across the government. Nonetheless, we have been proactive in identifying problems on which we can and do take action.
Between 1998 and 2002, we undertook and implemented a renewal exercise to improve our operations and our relationships with stakeholders. We reduced the paper burden for claimants, introduced dispute prevention and outreach activities and also expanded stakeholder services. As a result, we became a more service-oriented agency that improved the quality, timeliness and cost effectiveness of our activities and outputs. For example, we have been successfully reducing our backlog of claims awaiting processing from 956 in March 2002 to 645 claims, as of January 31, 2006. Continued high volumes of new claims, however, are beginning to pose serious challenges to our ability to keep the number of claims awaiting processing at a reasonable level.
The Commission performs its work based on five priorities:
These priorities support the Commission's key activity, the Claims Exemption Process, which in turn supports our strategic outcome.
Under this activity, we register, process and adjudicate trade secret claims within WHMIS, resulting in a balance between the right of industry to protect confidential business information and the right of workers to know about the hazards posed by workplace chemicals.
To support this key activity, we have developed a corporate action plan to help us better identify, integrate and address the challenges that we face. It includes the five priorities described in more detail in Section II of this Report.
In recent years, the Commission's Council of Governors has provided valuable advice and guidance to the President, particularly during our renewal exercise. We will continue to work with the Council as full partners in this tripartite governance structure and to ensure that we remain relevant to the concerns of our stakeholders.
Human resource needs are another focus of our action plan. For example, we depend on highly skilled staff in scientific fields such as toxicology to review the claims and the MSDSs that workers and employers rely on for the proper use of hazardous chemicals in the workplace and to respond to possible cases of exposure to those chemicals. In a small agency such as ours, any staffing gaps have a notable impact on performance.