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Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System - WHMIS


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The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) or Système d'information sur les matières dangereuses utilisèes au travail, (SIMDUT) in French, is Canadian legislation covering the use of hazardous materials in the workplace. This includes assessment, signage, labeling, Safety Data Sheets and worker training. WHMIS closely parallels the U.S. OSHA Hazard Communication Standard.

Do not confuse this with HMIS®, a hazard/label system of the American Coatings Association (formerly called the National Paint and Coatings Association).

Additional Info

Most of the requirements of WHMIS are incorporated into Canada's Hazardous Products Act and Controlled Products Regulations which are administered by Health Canada. Certain provincial or territorial laws may also apply. Enforcement of WHMIS is performed by the Labour Branch of Human Resources Development Canada or the provincial/territorial OHS agencies. Together, these various agencies have created one comprehensive resource portal, which are your go-to source for official WHMIS information.

Worldwide workplace safety standards evolved during the early 2000's with the advent of a United Nations effort called the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) which established a worldwide model framework so that various trading partner countries could establish substantially similar requirements for classifying chemical hazards, labeling containers, and communicating hazards via Safety Data Sheets (SDSs). As a result, most countries of the world now use the same format for SDSs, although there are differences in the precise implementation of the model regulations among various countries.


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Canada formally adopted the GHS model framework in its lastest update, WHMIS 2015, which rendered WHMIS 1998 obsolete on December 1, 2018. WHMIS 1988 labels and safety data sheets should no longer be used in the workplace. Some of the key changes which took effect with WHMIS 2015 include:

  1. A new hazard classification procedure addressing both physical and health hazards.
  2. New label requirements, including the use of Hazard Statements, Precautionary Statements, and pictograms.
  3. Adoption of the GHS's now-familiar 16-part format for SDSs.
  4. Elimination of the WHMIS 1998 requirement to update SDSs every three years, however they must still be updated whenever new information about a product becomes available.

While these changes were considerable, the roles and responsibilities under the now-obsolete WHMIS 1998 system still apply.

Within the WHMIS framework, chemical products with proprietary formulations or trade secret hazardous ingredients must be registered under the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act before thay can be sold or distributed in Canada. Registration numbers under this Act are issued by the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission (HMIRC). HMIRC is an independent government administrative law agency rather than being directly a part of Health Canada.

PREVIOUS VERSION (NOW OBSOLETE): WHMIS 1998 Classification Scheme (See CCOHS info)

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WHMIS 1998 was replaced by WHMIS 2015 which is based on the Globally Harmonized System and is no longer in use. The information in this section is obsolete and is presented solely for historical purposes. WHMIS 1998 had six broad hazard classifications:

The Controlled Products Regulations (CPR), prescribed what information must be on labels and (what were then called MSDSs but are now simply SDSs) under WHMIS 1998. You can find the 9 required parts as well as information on how one was to write an MSDS on this CCOHS web page [NOTE: This is OBSOLETE information, presented here only for reference purposes].

SDS Relevance

All materials covered by WHMIS are required to have Safety Data Sheets. This means that every worker must have an SDS for each hazardous substance and be trained in working with that material.

As discussed above, the Canadian implementation of the GHS model standard differs from other countries, so there may be variations between SDS's and labels from country to country. For example, the US's HCS 2012 is based on GHS Revision 3 whereas WHMIS is based on GHS Revision 5. In 2021, OSHA announced proposed rulemaking to align HCS with GHS Revision 7, an effort that would also reconcile aspects with WHMIS 2015. As of 2022, the most significant differences between HCS 2012 and WHMIS 2015 include:

  1. OSHA does not currently allow for confidential business information claims (trade secrets) for ranges of concentrations but WHMIS does.
  2. There are differences in the labeling of small packages and kit outer containers.
  3. Differences for Hazards Not Otherwise Classified (HNOC) as well as Physical Hazards Not Otherwise Classified (PHNOC).
  4. Bilingual English/French labels and SDS's are required under WHMIS, but the only requirement in under HCS 2012 is that they are in English.
  5. WHMIS allows some leeway for the supplier identifier under certain circumstances whereas OSHA always requires the name, address and telephone number of the U.S. manufacturer, importer, or other responsible party on the label and SDS.
  6. Small differences in the labeling requirement for carcinogenic ingredients.
  7. WHMIS covers biohazardous infectious materials (BIM) whereas HCS 2012 does not (OSHA does not have regulatory authority for these substances).
  8. WHMIS has requirements about transmitting data to users when labels/SDS's are updated 90-180 days after purchase. OSHA does not require written notice in this circumstance.
  9. Combustible dusts classification is done on the current form of the product under WHMIS, but HCS applies the classification if such dust can be formed at any point during intended/expected use.
  10. Water-activated toxicants require a hazard statement on the label and SDS under WHMIS, but only on the SDS under HCS.
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Further Reading

See also: The MSDS FAQ- Canadian MSDS's, OSHA

Additional definitions from Google and OneLook.

Entry last updated: Sunday, March 20, 2022. This page is copyright 2000-2023 by ILPI. Unauthorized duplication or posting on other web sites is expressly prohibited. Send suggestions, comments, and new entry desires (include the URL if applicable) to us by email.

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