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WHMIS 1988 - General

What is WHMIS?

WHMIS is a short form for Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System. It is a comprehensive plan for providing information on the safe use of hazardous materials used in Canadian workplaces. Information is provided by means of product labels, material safety data sheets (MSDS) and worker education programs.

What are the main parts of WHMIS?

The main components of WHMIS are hazard identification and product classification, labelling, material safety data sheets, and worker training and education.

Why was WHMIS created?

It was created in response to the Canadian workers' right to know about the safety and health hazards that may be associated with the materials or chemicals they use at work. Exposure to hazardous materials can cause or contribute to many serious health effects such as effects on the nervous system, kidney or lung damage, sterility, cancer, burns and rashes. Some hazardous materials are safety hazards and can cause fires or explosions. WHMIS was created to help stop the injuries, illnesses, deaths, medical costs, and fires caused by hazardous materials.

How was WHMIS developed?

WHMIS was developed by a tripartite steering committee with representatives from government, industry and labour to ensure that the best interests of everyone were considered.

Is WHMIS a law?

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

The majority of the "information" requirements (and exemptions) of WHMIS legislation were incorporated into the Hazardous Products Act and the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act. These apply to all of Canada. Regulations made under these acts include:

  • Controlled Products Regulations,
  • Ingredient Disclosure List,
  • Hazardous Materials Information Review Act Appeal Board Procedures Regulations,
  • Hazardous Materials Information Review Regulations.

The occupational health and safety components of WHMIS that apply to federal employees and others covered by the Canada Labour Code (CLC) are specified in the CLC and the Canadian Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (Part X).

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

Province/Territory Legislation
British Columbia Workers' Compensation Act
Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, Part 5
Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Code
Part 29 Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), Sections 395 to 414
Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety Act
Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, Part XXII
Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health Regulation, Man. Reg. 217/2006
Part 35, Workplace Hazardous Materials Information Systems Application
Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act
Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) Regulation
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
YukonOccupational Health and Safety Act
Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System Regulations
Northwest Territories & NunavutSafety Act
Work Site Hazardous Materials Information System Regulations

What are the duties under WHMIS?

Suppliers, employers and workers all have specified responsibilities in the Hazardous Products Act.

Suppliers: Canadian suppliers are those who sell or import products. When this product is considered a "controlled product" according to the WHMIS legislation, a supplier must label the product or container, and they must provide a material safety data sheet (MSDS) to their customers. The purpose of the labels is to clearly identify the contents of the hazardous material, and the MSDS is to explain what those hazards are.

Employers: Employers are required to establish education and training programs for workers exposed to hazardous products in the workplace. Employers must also make sure that the products are labelled and that an MSDS is present for each product and that they are readily available to workers.

Workers: Workers are required to participate in the training programs and to use this information to help them work safely with hazardous materials. They may also inform employers when labels on containers have been accidentally removed or if the label is no longer readable.

What are controlled products?

Controlled products is the name given to products, materials, and substances that are regulated by WHMIS legislation. All controlled products fall into one or more of six WHMIS classes.

Who enforces WHMIS?

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.

Does CCOHS have more information about WHMIS?

OSH Answers has several other documents about WHMIS dealing with various aspects including creating and understanding WHMIS-compliant MSDSs:

WHMIS - Classification
WHMIS - Education and Training
WHMIS - Labelling Requirements
Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) - Creating
Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) - General

How do I get more information?

If you have specific questions on the legislation, or enforcement that affect your workplace, you should contact the local office of the OH&S agency in your jurisdiction.

You can also search for WHMIS information on the web site of the occupational health and safety agency in your jurisdiction. You can quickly find your jurisdiction's web site by visiting the CanOSH Jurisdiction web page and click on the map or the name on the list.

You can also read the WHMIS Reference Manual (and lots of other WHMIS-related information) by following the links on the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) web page on the Product Safety Bureau section on the Health Canada web site.

Document last updated on January 18, 2012

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Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.