Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to introduce legislation that has the full support of all stakeholders.
The amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act will benefit workers exposed to hazardous materials in the workplace, employers in whose businesses these materials are used, suppliers of hazardous materials to Canadian industry and provincial and territorial governments in their responsibilities for occupational health and safety. All of these interested parties see the amendments as very positive. There is no opposition to their adoption.
In particular, the net result will be earlier delivery to workers of full and accurate information on the safe handling of hazardous materials. As everyone will appreciate, the outcome is welcome for all those involved in the use of hazardous materials in Canadian workplaces.
Before discussing the provisions of Bill S-2, I would like to outline the responsibilities of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission in order to provide context for the amendments. The commission is an independent, quasi-judicial agency of government which, while it may not have been in the public eye, plays an essential role in the protection of workers' health and safety and of industry's trade secrets.
The commission is part of the workplace hazardous materials information system, or WHMIS, a joint undertaking of labour, industry and the federal, provincial and territorial governments. Under the authority of the federal Hazardous Products Act, WHMIS is the mechanism by which the health and safety information needed to handle hazardous products safely is disclosed to workers using those products.
The information which must be provided to workers identifies the hazardous agreements in products, the specific risks to the health and safety of those using those products, the precautions that must be taken in handling the products and the appropriate first aid measures in the event of accidental exposure to hazardous ingredients.
When WHMIS was established in 1987, industry was concerned that there were situations in which the full disclosure of information on the hazardous material would betray trade secrets. This in turn would result in financial losses to companies holding trade secrets or financial gain for a company's market competitors.
For example, a company might find through its research a new application for a hazardous ingredient in a manufacturing process. If the full chemical identity of that ingredient was made available to workers, it would be available to that company's competitor and the company making the discovery would lose a competitive advantage that it has gained. The commission was created with a mandate to grant exemptions from disclosure for bona fide trade secrets while at the same time ensuring that documentation on the safe use of hazardous products provided to workers is accurate and complete.
I also draw the House's attention to the fact that the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act has been incorporated by reference into the occupational health and safety legislation of the provinces and territories. The mandate of the commission to balance the rights of employers and workers to full information on the use of hazardous materials with the right of an industry to protect its trade secrets is, therefore, carried out on behalf of the federal, provincial and territorials governments.
This means that whenever a business wants to protect information it considers a trade secret, it makes application to the commission for an exemption from disclosure and with that application includes the required health and safety documentation. The commission reviews the economic documentation in support of the claim for exemption from disclosure and determines whether the information meets the regulatory criteria for trade secrets.
The commission also determines whether the accompanying health and safety information is in compliance with the federal, provincial and territorial requirements with respect to providing the information needed to protect the health and safety of those working with the product.
If the commission determines that the information being provided to the worker is not in compliance with the applicable federal, provincial or territorial health and safety regulations, the claimant is ordered to make the necessary corrections and to provide the commission with a copy of the corrected health and safety documentation.
The decisions and orders of the commission are published in the Canada Gazette so all parties have full information on the corrections the claimants have been required to make. If the corrections are not made within a specific time period, there are measures at the commission's disposal, including steps leading to the restriction of the sale of the product in question.
A key part of the national program delivered by the commission is a tripartite Council of Governors. The governors represent organized labour, industry, the federal government and all provincial and territorial governments. The council acts as an advisory body to the commission and provides strategic advice and guidance. It is through the council that concerns of stakeholders are expressed and it is through the council that appropriate means of resulting concerns are identified.
With the full support of the Council of Governors, the commission undertook a competitive and comprehensive renewal program with the objective of making its operation more transparent and efficient, with a focus on early compliance with the health and safety standards.
Through an extensive consultation process, many improvements in the operations of the commission were identified. Most of these improvements have already been implemented administratively or through changes in regulation. For example, the commission changed its procedures to make the scientific basis for its decision available to applicants early in the process. With a better understanding of the reasons of the decisions, applicants will have less incentive to appeal. Because appeals take time, this means that full and accurate information is in the hands of the workers much earlier if there is no appeal than if there is an appeal.
The legislative changes set out in Bill S-2 complete the renewal process and further the goals of making the commission more efficient and transparent and shortening the time required to get full and accurate health and safety information into the hands of the workers.
There are three changes set out in Bill S-2.
First, the bill amends the act to allow claimants to declare that the information for which they are seeking an exemption for disclosure is confidential business information. That documentation in support of this claim is available and will be supplied on request. Currently, claimants are required to submit detailed documentation on steps they have taken to protect the confidentiality and on the potential financial implications of disclosure. This is an administrative burden on claimants and on all of the commission. The commission has found nearly all claims for exemption to be valid.
While this amendment will generally allow claimants to declare that information is confidential business information, the commission will collect full documentation when affected parties, such as labour organizations, challenge a claim or when a claim is selected through the validation scheme set up to ensure the integrity of the decision making process.
This change will simplify procedure for industry claimants and reduce the administrative burden for both industry and the commission. This efficiency will facilitate getting complete and accurate health and safety information into the hands of workers. It should also be stressed that the protection from disclosure of confidential business information in no way affects the requirement that workers be provided with full information on the safe handling of hazardous materials.
The bill also amends the act to permit claimants to make the corrections needed to bring the accompanying health and safety information into full compliance without the issuing of a compliance order.
Currently, if the commission finds that the health and safety documentation is not compliant with legislation, it must order the claimant to make the necessary corrections and publish the order in the Canada Gazette. A large portion of the claimants are prepared to make all necessary corrections as soon as they need to be identified and feel these orders reflect badly on the commitment to workplace health and safety.
The amendments would allow the commission to enter into an undertaking with the claimants to make the required corrections to the health and safety information on a voluntary basis. If the claimant fulfills the conditions of the undertaking, the commission will confirm compliance and, for transparency, will publish the corrections which have been made in the Canada Gazette.
If the undertaking is not fulfilled, the commission will order the claimant to comply. This will speed up the process of getting health and safety information into the hands of workers because it will avoid the delays built into the current process.
The act now requires that when an order is made it must be published. There is then a period of 45 days in which appeals can be filed and a further 30 days after the appeal period before the claimant must have the changes in place. After adding the inevitable delays in publication, there are very significant advantages to workers in pursuing the amendments to permit the voluntary correction of health and safety documentation.
Finally, the bill amends the act to improve the appeal process. The amended act would allow the commission to provide actual clarifications to appeal boards when these are needed to facilitate the appeal process.
Appeals of the decisions and orders of the commission are heard by independent boards with three members drawn from labour, industry and government. Most appeals heard to date would have benefited from additional explanatory information from the commission but this is not permitted under the current legislation.
As I previously mentioned, the improvements already put in place through the commission renewal process have significantly reduced the number of appeals filed. With the proposed amendments, the process of dealing with any future appeals will be facilitated. As with the other two amendments, this would speed up the process of getting accurate health and safety information into the hands of workers.
Those are the proposed amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act. I stress again the full support of all those affected: the workers using hazardous materials, the employers of those workers, the suppliers of hazardous materials and the provincial and territorial governments as guardians of occupational health and safety. There is no opposition.
The prime attraction of these changes is that they would be vital for the health and safety of workers as they provide information more quickly. The amendments would also provide more efficient and transparent processes and would benefit all the interested parties.
Given the unprecedented support and in light of the fact that the overriding objective of the amendments is to speed up the process of getting complete and accurate information on the safety of hazardous materials into the hands of workers, I have no hesitation in most strongly urging the support of the passage of this bill.