WHMIS Training

WHMIS stands 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. 

This course will explain the key aspects of WHMIS, how it is used in the workplace, and steps workers can take to to reduce or eliminate the risks associated with working with hazardous materials.  The overall purpose of WHMIS is to help ensure a safer, healthier workplace for everyone.    

What is WHMIS

Introduction to WHMIS

Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) was created in 1988 to address the rights of Canadian workers to know about the health and safety hazards associated with chemicals and other hazardous materials that they use or may come in contact with in the workplace. 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 or rashes.  Some hazardous materials are physical hazards and can cause physical damage like fires or explosions.  

Under WHMIS, workers have the right to receive education and training about each hazardous product they use, handle or store.  The goal of WHMIS is to reduce injury, disease and exposure to hazardous materials through education and training. 

WHMIS is a law and is regulated by the BC Workers' Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. WHMIS legislation regulates controlled products, chemicals, materials and substances.  

WHMIS 1988 and WHMIS 2015

WHMIS has recently been updated to WHMIS 2015.  It was updated to reflect elements of a new initiative called the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).  The goal of GHS to ensure the same set of rules for classifying hazardous products, and the same format and content for labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), will be adopted and used around the world. 

Key changes from WHMIS 1988 to WHMIS 2015:

  • The hazard symbols have been updated and are now called pictograms
  • Material Safety Data Sheets are being replaced with the 16 section Safety Data Sheets
  • By December 21, 2018, everything must be fully transitioned to the new WHMIS 2015 system 
  • During the transition period, workers will use both WHMIS 1988 and WHMIS 2015

The goal of WHMIS is to reduce injury and disease by communicating specific health and safety information about hazardous products to workers.

  • True
  • False

When was WHMIS first introduced in Canada?

  • 1998
  • 2015
  • 1988
  • 2005

When must everything be fully transitioned to the new WHMIS 2015 system?

  • Jan 1, 2015
  • December 31, 2016
  • December 21, 2018


Suppliers, employers and workers all have responsibilities to uphold under WHMIS regulations

1) Supplier Responsibilities

  • Suppliers are those that sell or import products. Suppliers must produce a label and SDS for every hazardous product that they manufacture, sell or import. 

2) Employer Responsibilities 

  • Educate and train workers on the hazards and safe use of hazardous products in the workplace
  • Ensure that hazardous products are properly labeled
  • Prepare workplace labels and SDSs
  • Ensure that up-to-date SDSs are readily available to workers
  • Ensure effective control measures are in place to protect the health and safety of worker

3) Worker Responsibilities

  • Participate in WHMIS and chemical safety training programs
  • Take necessary steps to protect themselves and their co-workers
  • Participate in identifying and controlling hazards 

Worker's rights under the BC Workers Compensation Act

In addition to WHMIS, worker's rights include: 

  • The right to refuse unsafe work that they believe is dangerous 
  • The right to know about the hazardous materials that they work with
  • The right to consult with and participate on the Joint Health & Safety Committee

Under WHMIS legislation, workers are responsible for:

  • Participating in WHMIS and chemical safety programs
  • Taking necessary steps to protect themselves and their co-workers
  • Participating in identifying and controlling hazards

Understanding WHMIS

Key elements of WHMIS 2015

There are four key elements of WHMIS 2015:

1)  Classification

  • WHMIS 2015 divides hazardous products into hazard groups, classes and categories, allowing users to quickly identify the hazard and the severity of that hazard. 

2) WHMIS Labels

  • Labels on hazardous products alert workers to the identities of products, their hazards, and precautions to be taken. 

​3) Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) 

  • Previously referred to as MSDSs, these documents provide detailed hazard and precautionary information. 

4) WHMIS education and training

  • Employers provide education and training for workers so that they can work safely with and near hazardous products. 
  • Workers need to know how WHMIS works, the hazards of controlled products found in their workplaces, and the safe work procedures they must follow.

What are the four key elements of WHMIS?

  • Classifications
  • Pictograms
  • Safety Data Sheets
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Labels
  • Education and Training

Hazard Classification

Hazard Classification

  • WHMIS 2015 divides hazardous products into two major hazard groups:​ 
    • Physical hazards:  based on the physical or chemical properties of the product, such as flammability, reactivity, or corrosivity to metals.
    • Health hazards :  based on the ability to cause a health effect (ex.  Eye irritation, respiratory issues, carcinogenicity). 
  • The hazards are then split into classes and categories:
    • Classes: Hazard classes are a way of grouping products that have similar properties.  See below for the listing of the 19 physical hazard classes and 12 health hazard classes. 
    • Categories:  Categories are numbers and letters that rate each hazardous product, informing about how hazardous the product is (i.e. the severity of the hazard)
      • Category 1 is the most hazardous. 

Acute toxicity is a health hazard

  • True
  • False

Combustible dust 3B is more hazardous than combustible dust 3A.

  • True
  • False


Pictograms are graphic images that immediately show users what type of hazard a hazardous product presents, a product may display more than one pictogram.  Most pictograms in WHMIS 2015 have a distinctive red diamond-shaped border.  Inside the border is a symbol that represents the potential hazard.  Pictograms are found on WHMIS labels and SDSs.   Scroll over the image for more detail on each pictogram. 

Until WHMIS has been completely transitioned to WHMIS 2015, you may still see WHMIS 1988 hazard symbols.  Below is a comparison for WHMIS 1988 and 2015 symbols and pictograms.  Scroll over the image for more information. 

The flame over circle pictogram means:

  • The product is flammable
  • The product is a health hazard
  • The product is an oxidizer
  • The product is an environmental hazard

The skull and crossbones pictogram means:

  • The product can explode
  • The product is compressed gas
  • The product is toxic


Labels are extremely important because they are typically the first indication to an individual that there may be certain risks when working with a hazardous product.  WHMIS labels also indicate what precautions need to be taken in order for an employee to protect themselves from illness or injury while working with a hazardous product.   

WHMIS legislation requires that every container of a hazardous material be labeled.   Employers are responsible for ensuring that all containers display the correct labeling throughout the workplace.  

There are two main types of WHMIS labels:

1) Supplier Labels

  • Provided for each product by the supplier, will be attached to all product containers supplied by supplier.

2) Workplace label

  • Required when a hazardous product is transferred or poured into a container that was not the original container from the supplier
  • Replaces a supplier label when a supplier label becomes lost or illegible 

Breakdown of workplace label

  • A product identifier identical to the one found on the hazardous product's safety data sheet
  • Safe handling information for the hazardous product
  • A reference to the availability of an SDS

The format is flexible.  Information can be written directly onto the container using permanent marker. 

When pouring a substance into a new container, it is not necessary to attach a workplace label to the container.

  • True
  • False

Safety Data Sheets

Safety data sheets (SDSs) (or MSDSs) are documents that provide information about hazardous products and advice about safety precautions.  An SDS tells you what the hazards of a product are, how to use the product safely, what to expect if the recommendations are not followed, how to recognize symptoms of exposure, and what to do if an emergency occurs. 

SDSs provide more detailed hazard information about products than labels. Use this information to identify:

  • The hazard of the product you use
  • How to protect yourself from those hazards
  • Safe handling and emergency measures

You can think of the SDS as having four main purposes.  It provides information  on:

  1. Identification - for the product and supplier
  2. Hazards - physical and health
  3. Prevention - steps you can take to work safely and reduce or present exposure
  4. Response - appropriate responses in various emergency situations

A few things to know:

  • Make sure the product is being used in the way the manufacturer intended.  Otherwise the SDS and label may not apply, or the protective measures listed may not be adequate. 
  • SDS may not cover information about the required safe work procedures,  follow-up with your manager if you are unsure of the proper safe work procedures of a product.  

When workers should use SDSs

SDSs should be reviewed in order to become familiar with the hazards of a product before starting to work with that product:

  1. Look at an SDS and match the name of the product on the container to the one on the SDS
  2. Know the hazards
  3. Understand safe handling and storage instructions
  4. Understand what to do in an emergency

SDSs are usually prepared or obtained by the manufacturer or importer of the product.  WHMIS 2015 requires a standard 16 section SDS.  All information must appear in the specific order:

  1. Product Identification: Name, purpose of product, supplier
  2. Hazard Identification
  3. Composition/Information on ingredients
  4. First Aid measures
  5. Fire fighting measures
  6. Accidental release measures
  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 

(M)SDS binders are located in each department and business. Each (M)SDS binder reflects the hazardous materials used in that department. 

(M)SDS Binder locations: 


  • Sutherland Lounge
  • Janitor's room 
  • Laundry Room 


  • F&B Office 


  • Basalt Kitchen 


  • Maintenance Office 

When should workers review Safety Data sheets?

  • After spilling a hazardous product
  • Before starting to work with a product
  • Workers should never have to review safety data sheets, that is the manager's responsibility

Where are the SDSs binders kept?

  • Front Desk
  • Basalt
  • F&B Office
  • Sutherland Lounge
  • Maintenance Shop
  • Reservations Office
Choose all the apply:

Where would you find the most amount of information about a product?

  • Label
  • Pictogram
  • WHMIS 1988 Symbol
  • Safety Data Sheet (SDS)

Controlling and minimizing the risks of hazardous products

Understanding the Risks of Hazardous Materials

Working with chemicals and other controlled products can be hazardous.  Controlled products are not all the same and have very different characteristics.  Controlled products can be solids, liquids and gases, and can be packaged in various types of containers: cans, boxes, drums, bottles, tanks and pressure vessels,ets., but all chemicals and hazardous materials should be properly labeled and have an SDS indicating the hazards of the product. 

Hazardous materials can pose physical or health hazards.  

Physical hazards are dangerous because they can cause physical damage to anything within range of the product if not handled correctly.  E.g.  Explosive materials, flammable materials, and corrosivity to metal materials.  

Health hazards are dangerous because they can enter the body in a number of different ways and can cause acute and chronic health effects.   Acute Health Effects happen quickly, usually a short time after exposure. Chronic Health Effects happen slowly over time.

Acute Health Effects Chronic Health Effects 
Damage to tissue Cancer
Irritation Asbestosis
Dry skin Mesothelioma
Dermatitis Silicosis
Allergic reactions Hearing loss
Lethal dosage Chronic dermatitis

How chemicals and hazardous materials can enter the body: 

  • Inhalation
    • Dust, mist, fumes and vapors can be inhaled
  • Ingestion
    • Chemicals easily be absorbed through your digestive system.  This can occur if you have hazardous materials on your hands while eating or smoking. 
  • Absorption
    • Chemicals can enter the body by passing through your skin 
  • Injection 
    • Chemicals can enter the body through lacerations, punctures or syringe needles

Chemicals and hazardous products have the ability to be:

  • Solids
  • Liquids
  • Gases
  • All of the above

It is safe to eat while handling hazardous chemicals

  • True
  • False

Controlling the Risks of Hazardous Materials

Hazardous materials can pose many risks to worker health and safety but we are able to control those risks by implementing safeguards.  

The Hierarchy of Safeguarding Controls is a system used to minimize exposure to hazards. This method is known as a hierarchy because the controls should be considered in the order presented (i.e. it is always best to try to eliminate the hazard first, if that's not an option, then implement an engineering control, etc).

The ways to minimize exposure to hazards are: 

1) Elimination/Substitution

  • Eliminate processes that use hazardous materials.
  • Make substitutions to eliminate hazards.

2) Engineering Controls 

  • Engineering controls are used to remove a hazard or place a barrier between the worker and the hazard.  e.g. a ventilation system.

3) Administration 

  • Work practices, policies, procedures and training and other guidelines that individuals must follow.

4) Hygiene

  • Always wash thoroughly after being in situations where a possibility of exposure exists.

5) Person Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • PPE includes: safety glasses, respirators, gloves, face shields, coveralls and safety boots.
  • PPE should not be worn outside work areas to reduce the likelihood of transferring any harmful substances into other environments. 

General Protective Measures: 

  • Ensure that compressed gas cylinder caps are in place and secured prior to and during transport
  • Always use properly designed carriers for transporting and handling compressed gas cylinders
  • Cylinders must be stored in a cool, dry place and should always be secured to prevent tipping or falling
  • Ensure that connections are properly secured before attempting to open valves on compressed gas cylinders and ensure that all valves are closed before removing connections
  • Ensure that containers are properly grounded and bonded when pouring flammable liquids to avoid the detrimental effects of sparks creating an ignition source
  • Avoid ignition sources such as flames, smoking, sparks and hot sources when working with flammables
  • Avoid oxidizers when working with flammable materials as they provide oxygen and will promote burning
  • Flammable materials should only be stored in approved storage containers and cabinets
  • Oxidizing substances should always be kept away from ignition sources
  • Always wear the proper personal protective equipment when working with hazardous materials
  • Never make direct contact with toxic or corrosive materials
  • Materials should always be handled and stored in designated areas only
  • Ensure that hazardous materials are cleaned up and disposed of properly so that traces are not left in areas and on surfaces where they can harm you and others
  • Ensure that all containers and storage devices are closed securely to avoid accidental release
  • Always follow workplace specific policies, procedures and guidelines
  • If you don’t understand a hazard or how to work safely, ask your supervisor
  • Never take short cuts
  • Ensure that all containers of hazardous materials contain a proper label
  • Always review a product's Safety Data Sheet prior to using it
  • Do not use a chemical unless an up to date Safety Data Sheet is available for review

The best thing to do before using a chemical is:

  • Put on chemical resistant gloves
  • Put on a face shield
  • Review the product's SDS

What to do when using a hazardous product

What workers should do when using a hazardous product:

  • Always check to see if there is a label on the product before you use it
  • Read, understand, and follow the instructions on the label and SDS.  And follow any education, instructions, and training you received
  • Ask your supervisor if you are not sure about how to use or store the product
  • Ask for a new label when you can't see or can't read the old one properly
  • Don't use a product that is not labeled or if the label is unreadable

You have the right to refuse work if you legitimately believe it is unsafe.

  • True
  • False

Additional Resources and Sources

WHMIS 2015 - An Overview


WHMIS 2015 - At Work





Canadian Centre for Workplace Health & Safety



WorkSafe BC