OSH Answers Fact Sheets
Easy-to-read, question-and-answer fact sheets covering a wide range of workplace health and safety topics, from hazards to diseases to ergonomics to workplace promotion. MORE ABOUT >
Canada has aligned the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).
This document discusses the WHMIS requirements after the alignment of WHMIS with the GHS. Information in this document is based on the federal legislation – the amended Hazardous Products Act and the new Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR).
Health Canada is the government body responsible for making the required changes to the overall federal WHMIS-related laws. Note that WHMIS-related occupational health and safety regulations for the provinces, territories and federally regulated workplaces will also require updating.
While much is known with the federal legislation updates, legislative updates for each provincial or territorial jurisdiction may affect some of the information in this document.
The WHMIS 2015 legislation is currently in force. "In force" means that suppliers may begin to use and follow the new requirements for labels and safety data sheets (SDSs) for hazardous products sold, distributed, or imported into Canada. However, there is a transition period with various stages. At the outset of the transition period, the supplier must fully comply with either the repealed Controlled Products Regulations (WHMIS 1988) or the HPR (WHMIS 2015) for a specific controlled or hazardous product. The classification, label and (material) SDS must comply fully with the specific regulation chosen by the supplier, and not be a combination of the two.
Please refer to the following OSH Answers documents for information about WHMIS 2015:
- WHMIS 2015 – Pictograms
- WHMIS 2015 – Labels
- WHMIS 2015 – Hazard Classes and Categories
- WHMIS 2015 – Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)
- WHMIS 2015 – Education and Training
- WHMIS 2015 – WHMIS Program
- WHMIS 2015 – Glossary
- WHMIS 2015 – Confidential Business Information (CBI)
- WHMIS 2015 – Variances
- WHMIS 2015 – Laboratories
What is WHMIS?
WHMIS stands for the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System. It is a comprehensive system for providing health and safety information on hazardous products intended for use, handling, or storage in Canadian workplaces.
WHMIS has aligned with the worldwide hazard communication system known as GHS – the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. Aligning with GHS provides many benefits, including:
- Hazard classification criteria are more comprehensive which improves ability to indicate severity of hazards.
- New hazard classes are included.
- Physical hazard criteria are consistent with the Transport of Dangerous Goods (TDG regulations).
- Standardized language (hazard and precautionary statements).
- Standardized SDS format and more comprehensive requirements.
What are the main parts of WHMIS?
The main components of WHMIS are hazard identification and product classification, labelling, safety data sheets, and worker education and training.
Is WHMIS law?
Yes. WHMIS first became law in 1988 through a series of complementary federal, provincial and territorial legislation and regulations. This original system will be identified as WHMIS 1988. Updates to implement GHS will be referred to as WHMIS 2015.
What is the status of the new WHMIS regulations?
The Hazardous Products Regulations were published in Canada Gazette, Part II on February 11, 2015. Both the amended Hazardous Products Act and new regulations are currently in force. "In force" means that suppliers may begin to use and follow the new requirements for labels and SDSs for hazardous products sold, distributed, or imported into Canada.
Note that the federal, provincial, and territorial (F/P/T) occupational health and safety WHMIS regulations will also require updating.
What are the timelines for the transition period between WHMIS 1988 and WHMIS 2015?
A multi-year transition plan has been announced. From now until May 31, 2017, suppliers (manufacturers and importers) can use WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015 to classify and communicate the hazards of their products (recall that suppliers must use one system or the other). Beginning June 1, 2017 to May 31, 2018, distributors can continue to sell, and suppliers importing for their own use can continue to import, hazardous products with labels and (M)SDSs that are compliant with WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015.
|Manufacturers and Importers||Distributors||Employer*|
From February 11, 2015 to May 31, 2017
WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015
WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015
Consult F/P/T regulator
From June 1, 2017 to May 31, 2018
WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015
WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015
From June 1, 2018 to November 30, 2018
WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015
December 1, 2018
*Requirements may vary - consult your local jurisdiction for their WHMIS requirements and transition timing.
As an employer, what is required during the transition period?
During the transition period, you may receive hazardous products that follow either WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015 requirements. To ensure worker protection, employers must educate and train workers about WHMIS 2015 as new labels and SDSs appear in their workplaces. During the transition period, employers may continue to have WHMIS 1988 labels and MSDSs in the workplace – if so, they must also continue to educate workers about WHMIS 1988. Employers must review and comply with the WHMIS requirements of their occupational health and safety jurisdiction.
What products does WHMIS cover?
The Hazardous Products Regulations set out specific hazard classification criteria. If a product covered by the Hazardous Products Act meets the criteria to be included in a hazard class or category, it is considered to be a "hazardous product". All hazardous products used in the workplace are covered by the WHMIS regulations, and a WHMIS program, including education and training, must be in place.
Which products are not covered by WHMIS?
The exclusions under WHMIS 2015 are:
- Explosives as defined in the Explosives Act.
- Cosmetic, device, drug or food as defined in the Food and Drugs Act.
- Pest control products as defined in the Pest Control Products Act.
- Consumer products as defined in the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act.
- Wood or products made of wood.
- Nuclear substances within the meaning of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, that are radioactive.
- Hazardous waste being a hazardous product that is sold for recycling or recovery and is intended for disposal.
- Tobacco and tobacco products as defined in the Tobacco Act.
- Manufactured articles.
Many of these products are covered under other legislation. Note that while a product may be exempt from the requirement to have a WHMIS label and SDS, employers must still provide education and training on health effects, safe use, and storage.
What are the suppliers' duties under WHMIS?
Suppliers are those organizations who, in the course of business, sell or import hazardous products. Suppliers must ensure the appropriate classification of hazardous products. This classification is determined based on comparison of all available hazard data for the ingredients or mixture to the WHMIS requirements as outlined in the Hazardous Products Regulations (WHMIS 2015) or the Controlled Products Regulations (WHMIS 1988).
When a product is considered to be a "hazardous product", the supplier must label the product or container and they must provide a safety data sheet (SDS) to their customers. The purpose of the label is to clearly identify the hazardous product, the supplier, the hazards and precautionary measures. The SDS provides more information about that product.
What are the employers' duties under WHMIS?
When a hazardous product is used in the workplace, employers are required to:
- Educate and train workers on the hazards and safe use of products.
- Ensure that hazardous products are properly labelled.
- Prepare workplace labels, as needed.
- Prepare SDSs, as necessary (e.g., if an employer manufactures a hazardous product that is used on-site).
- Provide access to up-to-date SDSs to workers.
- Ensure appropriate control measures are in place to protect the health and safety of workers.
What are the workers duties under WHMIS?
Workers will participate in WHMIS education and training programs, take necessary steps to protect themselves and their co-workers, and participate in identifying and controlling hazards.
What happens if consumer products are used in the workplace?
Consumer products are those products that can be purchased in a store and are generally intended to be used in the home. They often include cleaning products, adhesives, or lubricants. These products are labelled according to other legislation.
A comprehensive chemical safety program would include both hazardous products as regulated by WHMIS, and any other products that a worker may be exposed to (which includes consumer products). Workers should still receive education and training for safe use of these products.
Who enforces WHMIS?
WHMIS is enforced by the provincial or territorial government departments or agencies responsible for health and safety, or through the Labour Program for federally regulated workplaces.
What happens when an inspector visits the workplace?
Inspectors have the authority to ensure that occupational health and safety legislation is being followed.
For WHMIS, for example, employers should be prepared to:
- Demonstrate that a WHMIS program is in place.
- Show where the SDSs are for the hazardous products used at that workplace.
- Show that hazardous products in use have the appropriate labels.
- Show education and training records for employees who work with or may be exposed to a hazardous product.
Inspectors may need to speak to workers to confirm that education and training has taken place. Workers should be able to answer these questions for every hazardous product they work with:
- What are the hazards of the product?
- How do I protect myself from those hazards?
- What do I do in case of an emergency?
- Where can I get further information?
What does it mean when I see a generic chemical identity listed on a SDS?
This listing indicates that the supplier has applied to have the exact ingredients in the hazardous product considered as "confidential business information" (CBI). There is a strict process that must be followed to have an ingredient or ingredients considered as confidential business information, and approval is only granted by Health Canada. For example, a CBI claim may be granted if stating the ingredient name on the SDS would give competitors of that product financial gain and/or there was a significant cost to the development of the product.
Each claim is given a Registry Number. The Registry Number and approval or filing date must be shown on the SDS. If the name of an ingredient is claimed as CBI, a generic chemical identity must be listed, as well as all physical or health hazard information, preventive measures, and first aid.
While the ingredients may not be disclosed on the SDS, there is a requirement that the supplier must disclose the name of the ingredient to a safety or health professional, for example, in an emergency.
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.