What is WHMIS?
WHMIS stands for Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System and is Canada’s national hazard communication standard.
It outlines the obligations of each party in the chemical supply chain from chemical suppliers, importers, and distributors
who traffic in controlled products to the employers and workers who use them. WHMIS is based upon the idea that workers have
the right-to-know about the hazards of the materials they work with and steps they can take to protect themselves.
Health Canada estimates that 1 in 4 Canadian workers are exposed to controlled products on the job and that the cost of
employee exposure to hazardous chemicals on the economy is over $600 million annually.
In 1988, to ensure workers receive adequate hazard information about chemicals used at their work sites, an impressive
coordination of federal, provincial and territorial legislation led to the national hazard communication standard called
The three major tenents of WHMIS are:
Labeling of WHMIS controlled products
Provision of material safety data sheets (MSDSs)
Worker education and training programs
Complicating WHMIS compliance are the rigorous provisions around MSDS management and workplace labeling. For example,
among other WHMIS related responsibilities, employers must ensure MSDSs are updated every three years and that workplace
containers (or secondary containers) of controlled products in the workplace are properly labeled.
WHMIS violations can result in fines of up to $1,000,000 and two years imprisonment. Similar fines and imprisonment
terms can be handed out for provincial violations and can lead to seizure of products and work site shut downs.
Health Canada estimates that several million chemicals are available to the Canadian market and that more than 3
million Canadian workers are exposed to chemicals on the job annually.
WHMIS is enforced by the Labour Branch of Human Resources Development Canada for federal workplaces and by the
provincial or territorial agencies responsible for occupational health and safety for most other workplaces.
WHMIS Labels and MSDSs
WHMIS To-Do List
GHS and WHMIS
When controlled products arrive in the workplace, they must be marked by supplier labels and accompanied by MSDSs. These
labels and MSDSs must be presented in both English and French.
Under WHMIS, there are seven label categories required on most labels. (WHMIS does make allowance for the reduction
of the number categories for containers of certain sizes and use.) The seven categories are:
Reference to the MSDS
First Aid Measures
On WHMIS supplier labels the letters, numbers and borders must contrast with other marking on the container.
Additionally, employers are responsible for making sure no controlled products are used without proper labels. To that
end, employers must use workplace labels when contents are transferred to new containers. Workplace labels must have
at least 3 categories:
Safe handling information
MSDSs are integral to WHMIS and worker protection. For that reason, suppliers must provide MSDSs to customers on or
before the time of sale of controlled substances. Employers must then make MSDSs available to workers in the workplace
in such a way that they are easily accessible and where workers can study the information.
There are nine MSDS categories (under four sections) required by WHMIS. No category can be blank (for instance, not
available or not applicable must be designated by something other than N/A). The nine categories are as follows:
Identification and Recognition
Fire and Explosion Hazard
First Aid Measures