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WHMIS 1988

WHMIS provides workers and employers with information about hazardous, controlled products used in the workplace. Labels, safety data sheets, and training help keep workers safe. WHMIS was updated in 2015. Until late 2018, workers may encounter WHMIS 1988 and 2015 formats. If the employer uses both systems, workers must also be able to use both.

Classification and symbols

Hazardous, controlled products are classified into six hazard classes. These classes can be further broken down into divisions. Eight hazard symbols identify these classes and the specific hazard of the controlled product. The classifications are:

Symbol Description
WHMIS symbol class A compressed gas Compressed gas
This class includes compressed gases, dissolved gases, and gases liquefied by compression or refrigeration.
The container may explode if exposed to heat or shock (dropped).
Symbol Description
WHMIS symbol class B Flammable and combustible material Flammable and combustible material
Products in this class may ignite in the presence of a spark. Class B has six divisions.
Division 1: Flammable liquids
These are compressed gasses (Class A) that form flammable mixtures in air.
Division 2: Flammable liquids
These products have a flash point below 37.8 Celsius. At or below this temperature a spark may ignite gas vapours from these liquids.
Division 3: Combustible liquids
These products have a flash point between 37.8 and 93.3 Celsius
Division 4: Flammable solids
These products may ignite through friction and/or burn so vigorously they create a hazard.
Division 5: Flammable aerosols
These products are packaged in aerosol containers. Either the aerosolized product or propellant may catch fire.

Division 6: Reactive flammable materials
These products may:

  • Spontaneously create heat or ignite under normal conditions of use, or create heat when exposed to air to the point where they begin to burn
  • Emit flammable gas or spontaneously catch fire when in contact with water or water vapour
Symbol Description
WHMIS symbol class C oxidizing material Oxidizing material
These products increase the risk of fire if they come into contact with flammable or combustible materials.
Symbol Description
Poisonous and infectious materials
Class D has three divisions:
WHMIS symbol class D division 1 materials causing immediate and serious toxic effects Division 1: Materials causing immediate and serious toxic effects
These products can cause death or immediate injury when a person is exposed to small amounts.
WHMIS symbol class D division 2 materials causing other toxic effects Division 2: Materials causing other toxic effects
These products can cause life-threatening and serious, long-term health problems, as well as severe but immediate reactions in a person repeatedly exposed to small amounts.
WHMIS symbol class D division 3 biohazardous infectious materials Division 3: Biohazardous infectious materials
These materials contain harmful micro-organisms that have been classified into Risk Groups 2, 3, and 4 by the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Medical Research Council of Canada.
Symbol Description
Corrosive materials
This class includes caustic and acid materials that can destroy the skin or eat through metals.
Symbol Description
WHMIS symbol class F dangerously reactive materials Dangerously reactive materials
These products may self-react dangerously (e.g., exploding) upon standing or when exposed to physical shock or to increased pressure or temperature, or emit toxic gases when exposed to water.


Controlled products are labelled so workers can quickly and easily identify the controlled product, the hazard, and how to safely use the product.

Supplier labels

Suppliers must affix labels to any controlled product sold for use in the workplace. Labels are standardized, must be written in both French and English, and contain seven required items of information within a distinctive hatched border.

If a product is shipped in a single container, the supplier must apply the supplier label. If a number of inner containers are packaged into a multi-container shipment (such as a box or wrapped pallet), the supplier must apply labels on both the inner and outer containers, unless there is a written agreement that the purchaser will apply the supplier labels to the inner containers. For bulk shipments, the supplier must send either a supplier label or the information required on a supplier label to the purchaser.

Depending on how the product is shipped, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act may require additional labels during transport. For multi-container shipments, a supplier label is not required on the outer container if a TDG label is present.

Supplier labels must not use colours that conflict with Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TDG) labelling.

Workplace labels

Workplace labels are required when:

  • A controlled product is produced and used on site.
  • A controlled product is transferred from the original container to a secondary container and not immediately used.
  • The supplier label is missing or not readable.

Workplace labels must have three types of information:

  • Product identifier
  • Safe handling information and personal protective equipment required
  • Reference to the material safety data sheets (MSDS), if an MSDS has been produced by the supplier

Material safety data sheets (MSDS)

A material safety data sheet is a technical bulletin that provides specific hazard information, safe handling information, and emergency procedures for a controlled product. It is a valuable resource for workers and should be a key source of information for employers developing training programs and safe work procedures.

Suppliers of controlled products must provide an MSDS in both official languages on or before the day of purchase.

Employers must educate and train workers to ensure they understand the information on the MSDS. Workers must be able to use the information to work safely with and near controlled products. If an MSDS is more than three years old employers must contact the supplier for an updated MSDS or acquire one from an MSDS database.

Confidential business information

Confidential business information (CBI) refers to specific product information that suppliers or employers who are manufacturers are permitted to withhold from an SDS or label. In the U.S., CBI may be called "trade secrets" or proprietary information. Under WHMIS, a supplier can make a request to Health Canada to protect certain information that gives a company an economic advantage over competitors. Crucial information such as health hazards may never be withheld.

Changing to WHMIS 2015

In 2015, WHMIS was updated to align Canada's system with the US and other major trading partners. WHMIS 1988 is being phased out and by December 1, 2018 only the new WHMIS 2015 will be used. Each type of WHMIS user has a set amount of time to transition to the new WHMIS 2015 system.