What is WHMIS?

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is a Canada-wide system designed to give employers and workers information on hazardous materials in the workplace. 

Why was WHMIS created?

WHMIS was created to reduce injury and disease by communicating specific health and safety information about controlled products so that the information can be used to reduce exposure to hazardous materials.

Is WHMIS a law?

Yes. WHMIS became law through a combination of federal, provincial and territorial legislation that became effective October 31, 1988.

The following acts and regulations apply to workers and employers covered by the federal and provincial jurisdictions:

British Columbia

Workers’ Compensation Act
Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, Part 5

Alberta

Occupational Health and Safety Act Occupational Health and Safety Code, Part 29

Saskatchewan

Occupational Health and Safety Act
Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, Part XXII

Manitoba

Workplace Safety and Health Regulation, Part 35

Ontario

Occupational Health and Safety Act
WHMIS Regulation R.R.O. 1990, Regulation 860

Quebec

Act Respecting Occupational Health and Safety
Regulation Respecting Information on Controlled Products

New Brunswick

Occupational Health and Safety Act
Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System Regulation

Nova Scotia

Occupational Health and Safety Act
Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) Regulations

Prince Edward Island

Occupational Health and Safety Act
Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System Regulations

Newfoundland

Occupational Health and Safety Act
Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) Regulations

Yukon Territories

Occupational Health and Safety Act
Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System Regulations

Northwest Territories & Nunavut

Safety Act
Work Site Hazardous Materials Information System Regulations

Federal Sector

Canada Labour Code Canadian Occupational Safety and Health Regulations (Part X).


Which materials are covered under WHMIS?

Hazardous materials covered by WHMIS are referred to as “controlled products”, and are grouped in categories of materials called “classes”. These classes are as follows:

  • compressed gases
  • flammable and combustible materials
  • oxidizing materials
  • poisonous and infectious materials
  • corrosive materials
  • dangerously reactive materials
      

How is information to be provided under WHMIS?

There are three ways that information on hazardous materials is to be provided:

1. Product labels

Suppliers are required to provide cautionary labels on all controlled products as a condition of sale and import into Canada. By law the minimum content required on a supplier label is:

  • product identifier
  • supplier identifier
  • hazard symbols
  • reference to the MSDS
  • risk phrases
  • precautionary measures
  • first aid measures

2. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a document that is prepared by the supplier or manufacturer of the material that contains information on the potential hazards (health, fire, reactivity and environmental), and how to work safely with hazardous materials. It also contains information on the use, storage, handling and emergency procedures all related to the hazards of the material. In Canada, every material that is controlled by WHMIS must have an accompanying MSDS

Employers are required to make MSDSs readily available to all workers, and to keep them up to date (no more than 3 years old).A copy of the MSDS should be stored with the accompanying hazardous material. It is also a good idea to file a copy of all MSDSs in a binder to be kept in a central area that is accessible by all workers at all times.

3. Worker education

Any and all workers who may be exposed to hazardous materials in their jobs must receive training regarding the hazards of these materials and the WHMIS system. Specific WHMIS education and training requirements are regulated by each occupational health and safety jurisdiction.

Are there any hazardous materials not included in WHMIS?

Yes. There are nine categories of materials that are not covered by WHMIS. While most of these materials will not require an MSDS, you should check if the manufacture has produced one. Often times you can get an MSDS for a non-controlled product which is good information to have in the workplace. Remember, if you can’t get an MSDS, it is a good idea to look at the ingredients of the material to determine if they are dangerous. Your regional health and safety rep can help look up information on chemicals if you don’t know what they are or can’t find any information.

Hazardous materials not covered under WHMIS are:

  • consumer restricted products such as those products sold to people in regular stores in consumer-sized packaging, and that are already labelled (following the rules of the Hazardous Products Act)
  • explosives (as defined by the Explosives Act)
  • cosmetics, drugs, food or devices (as defined by the Food and Drug Act)
  • pest control products such as pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, etc. (as defined by the Pest Control Products Act)
  • radioactive materials (as defined by the Nuclear Safety and Control Act)
  • wood and products made of wood
  • a manufactured article, such as a car battery or a mercury thermometer
  • tobacco or products made of tobacco
  • hazardous wastes

What about products imported from outside of Canada?

WHMIS is Canada’s national hazard communication standard. A number of countries have implemented similar systems; however, they differ to varying degrees. Canadian importers of WHMIS controlled products are required to obtain or prepare proper labelling and an MSDS in accordance with Canadian Controlled Product regulations before the controlled product is used or sold. Since 1992, Canada has been working with other countries to harmonize existing hazard communication systems on chemicals in order to develop a single, globally harmonized system, which would standardize classes, labels and MSDSs around the world. The system is known as the “Globally Harmonized System” (or GHS).

It is unclear how long it will take the Canadian and provincial governments to fully implement GHS.

 For more information contact:

CUPE National Health and Safety Branch
1375 St-Laurent Boulevard
OTTAWA, ON K1G OZ7

Tel: (613) 237-1590
Fax: (613) 237-5508
Email: health_safety@cupe.ca