Mr. Speaker, perhaps I was confused. That happens sometimes; it is very human. We are here in the House and often we have information to give to colleagues. That sometimes disturbs the concentration that we require to speak on a subject.
I will continue my remarks. The Hazardous Materials Information Review Act governs the activities of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission. That is an agency independent of the government with a quasi-judicial role. The commission plays a role in workplace health and safety and in the protection of industrial secrets.
The Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission is also a component of the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). This system was developed by unions, industries and the federal, provincial and territorial governments. It provides information to workers who are in contact with hazardous materials and who need information for their own safety at work.
Why does such a system exist? As I have said, it serves to communicate all the information workers need concerning hazardous materials. All those workers who come into contact with hazardous products need to be protected. That is why the Bloc Québécois supports this bill, along with all the other stakeholders on this subject, including the workers, the industry, the unions and the manufacturers of these products.
WHMIS provides information in the form of data sheets and on labels. For example, if the information is contained on labels that are damaged and the information can not be properly read, a person who must work with that hazardous product can refuse to handle it. He or she can call for the manufacturer to provide information on the dangers of handling certain products. This provides a degree of safety for all workers, and especially for new employees, who also need the data sheet. That data sheet should be available at all times and should be placed in a location that is easily accessed. If it were under lock and key, workers would not have easy access to the data sheet, and that would be contrary to the objectives of the act.
The data sheet provides a list of all dangerous and toxic ingredients, as well as the precautions to be taken in handling the product. The data sheet also describes how to provide help to someone who is exposed to the product, or whose body or eyes have been in contact with the product. There are first aid procedures for anyone who has been in contact with a hazardous product. WHMIS is very important. It is very useful to have an established protocol that all companies must follow for the health and safety of employees in the workplace.
So, there is the establishment of WHMIS, the disclosure of information on the loss of competitive advantage and the disclosure of ingredients. Companies are uneasy about having to provide all the information about the manufacture of a dangerous product. I was going to say, “ a drug.” Since I am our health critic, I almost made a mistake. Really, this is a product that contains hazardous materials. This information must be disclosed; but some company information must remain secret when a product is marketed. The company asks for an exemption from disclosing certain information about certain products to their competitors.
There is a process to claim exemption from disclosure of this information. The bill sets out to ensure that this exemption claim, which is processed by the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, is much easier to make than it is now.
Application for exemption from WHMIS documentation on how to use hazardous products safely will be much easier and will require much less red tape. It will cut to the chase.
Then we will see how a claimant can be exempt from having their information reviewed, while still providing information on the health and safety risks associated with their product's ingredients and their effects. Some information could also be provided that the companies do not want to disclose in order to protect their trade secrets. This process will be much easier and less restrictive.
Those who do not have trade secrets have no problem since there will be no documentation to provide on health and safety.
The companies will be subject to a review by a federal, provincial or territorial agency and not by the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission.
Others, who want to withdraw from this exemption, will continue their efforts with the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission.
The significance of the trade secrets will be carefully looked at. Not everyone will be exempt. Furthermore, the compliance of the company's material safety data sheet will be determined based on federal, provincial and territorial requirements. If the documents submitted are not satisfactory, then a new material safety data sheet may be required.
Bill S-2would make a number of changes. It would change the procedure by which a hazardous materials manufacturer can obtain an exemption from disclosing the confidential composition of its products.
As I said earlier, the organization that grants exemptions is the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission. This organization works with industry, associations and workers, who are the primary stakeholders.
I think this bill strikes a balance between the challenge of keeping workers safe while handling hazardous materials and industry’s right to protect trade secrets from the competition. The Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission will follow up and make the procedures more efficient. In fact, the commission's council of governors asked that the hazardous materials bill be amended in this way.
The commission was established in 1988. The data sheets were reviewed and 95% were found to be non-compliant. This bill makes it possible to determine whether the data sheets are providing accurate information not only on toxic substances but also on hazardous materials. How could we do a better job of training the people who work with these hazardous materials?
Over the past few years, eight or nine corrections have been required on each data sheet. Better protection for workers' health has also been implemented. There were hazards to their health. Monitoring was inadequate. This bill corrects that situation.
Workers must be given all available information to better protect their safety. The commission plays two roles: one in approving exemptions and the other in health protection with respect to exemptions.
The council of governors is the consultative body that sets policy for the commission. It was the council of governors that submitted the three amendments before us today. Only four out of more than 1,400 claims for exemption have been denied in the past. In addition, the documentation was too detailed, and the goal is to expedite this process because of the administrative burden it places on claimants and the commission.
I would now like to come back to the material safety data sheet. It must be available at all times, even for new workers. Quebec has a welcome protocol that provides new workers with information about a company's traditions and practices. But when it comes to hazardous materials, companies have to go beyond traditions and practices and support workers properly in handling these hazardous materials.
I think that this is the reason why the Bloc Québécois supports this bill. It is a question of facilitating the process to speed things up.
As well, many companies wanted to update their material safety data sheet and the information they gave their workers. The new bill can facilitate that. A company will now be allowed to act voluntarily instead of waiting to be notified to make a claim for exemption.
I think that this is a good idea, because if the company shows that it is willing to support its workers better in handling hazardous materials, it will not have to make a claim for exemption. It will be allowed to proceed voluntarily. That is why the Bloc Québécois supports this bill.
The Bloc is very proactive when it comes to the health and safety of workers. We have submitted a number of bills that were very proactive in this area. Take, for example, the bill introduced by my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert on preventive withdrawal for pregnant workers who have to handle hazardous materials. Considerable caution is required.
And then there are replacement workers. It could be dangerous for them to work in places where they have to handle hazardous materials. We are already talking about the workers who are used to their job, but there are all the other workers, including replacement workers. My colleague's objective, or at least her concern, was to introduce a bill on replacement workers during a strike, should a company decide to use such workers. Taking that another step, if a replacement worker should have to work with hazardous materials it would be dangerous for him or her to do so. We have to think about workers who are in daily contact with hazardous materials.
I think I have covered the issue with respect to the body charged with implementing the new procedure. This is an improved procedure that is more functional and less restrictive, but also makes companies accountable. I think that when workers, the company and the people concerned agree with a bill and its amendments, then the Bloc Québécois—which has closely followed this issue and has the workers' interests at heart, as several bills confirm—also agrees. We will therefore also vote in favour of this Senate bill.