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Health and Safety: Teaching Tools

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WHMIS Basics

What is WHMIS?

WHMIS is a short form for Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System. It is a national system for providing information on the safe use of hazardous products in the workplace.

WHMIS was created:

  • as a way to ensure every Canadian worker's right to know about the safety and health hazards is met.
  • to help reduce the injuries, illnesses, deaths, medical costs, fires and explosions caused by the unsafe use of hazardous products. Hazardous products can be used safely if appropriate precautions are followed.


WHMIS first became law through a series of complementary federal, provincial and territorial legislation that became effective October 31, 1988. WHMIS was updated in 2015. These changes are often referred to as "WHMIS 2015".

The majority of the hazard identification and information requirements of WHMIS were incorporated into the federal Hazardous Products Act and the regulations. This umbrella legislation applies to all of Canada.

Each province and territory has their own Act and Regulations to legislate WHMIS for workers and employers in their jurisdiction.


Suppliers, employers and workers have different responsibilities under WHMIS:

Suppliers sell or import products. Suppliers must determine if their products meet the criteria to be classified under WHMIS. Products that are covered by WHMIS are known as "hazardous products".

When a product is determined to be a "hazardous product", the supplier must label the product, and provide a safety data sheet (SDS) to their customers. The SDS explains the hazards and safe handling procedures for the product, while the label provides a summary of information that is immediately available to the worker.

Employers must provide education and training programs for workers exposed to hazardous products in the workplace. Employers must also make sure products are labelled and that an SDS is present and readily available to workers.

Workers are required to participate in the education and training programs and to use this information to help them work safely with hazardous products. For example, they can inform employers when labels on containers have been accidentally removed or if the label is no longer readable.

Components of WHMIS

The four components of WHMIS are:

  • hazard identification and product classification
  • labels
  • safety data sheets (SDS)
  • worker education and worksite specific training.

For more information on hazard identification and product classification, please see Pictograms. For more information on labels, please see WHMIS Labels.

Safety Data Sheet (SDS)

SDSs are prepared by the supplier or manufacturer of the product.
Think of the SDS as having four main purposes. It provides information on:

  • Identification: for the product and supplier
  • Hazards: physical (fire and reactivity) and health.
  • Prevention: steps you can take to work safely, reduce or prevent exposure, or in an emergency
  • Response: appropriate responses in various situations (e.g., first-aid, fire, accidental release).

Employers and workers use the information on the SDS to protect themselves from hazards, and for safe handling and emergency measures.

In Canada, every hazardous product that is controlled by WHMIS must have an accompanying SDS (both the product name and supplier on the SDS must match the product in use).

There are 16 sections of information in an SDS.

  1. Identification
  2. Hazard identification
  3. Composition/Information on ingredients
  4. First-aid measures
  5. Fire-fighting measures
  6. Accidental release
  7. Handling and storage
  8. Exposure controls/Personal protection
  9. Physical and chemical properties
  10. Stability and reactivity
  11. Toxicological information
  12. Ecological information
  13. Disposal considerations
  14. Transport information
  15. Regulatory information
  16. Other information

For most people who work with hazardous products, you should always:

  • read the name of the chemical (Section 1),
  • know the hazards (Section 2),
  • understand safe handling and storage instructions (Section 7), and
  • understand what to do in an emergency (Sections 4, 5 and 6).

WHMIS Education and Training

Education is required by law for all workers who use, handle or may be exposed to a hazardous product. WHMIS education means teaching workers about WHMIS and the hazardous products used or stored in the workplace. WHMIS training refers to instruction in worksite-specific information such as work and emergency procedures. If WHMIS hazardous products are present, all employers must have a worker education and training program. The overall goal is to give the workers knowledge and information that they can understand and apply to protect their health and safety every day.

When You Start a New Job - Some Tips to Remember

Expect WHMIS education and training at the beginning of any new job - very few jobs exist where there are no hazardous materials on the site.

GET education and training if you work with or near hazardous materials. If you aren't offered training, ask for it - BEFORE you use the products.

READ about the hazardous products you work with or near, by reviewing labels and SDSs. If you aren't sure, ask for more help in understanding the hazard and safe handling procedures. If the label or SDS is damaged so that you can't read it, report it to your supervisor. Your supervisor will make sure it is relabelled or replaced properly.

ASK about what personal protective equipment (PPE) you need, how to wear it properly, and how to care for it.

KNOW what to do in an emergency, such as a spill or fire, and learn where the safety equipment is.

WASH your hands thoroughly after handling hazardous products.

DO NOT EAT or DRINK around hazardous products.

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