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Alert: You and Chemicals in the Workplace

  • ISSN: 1195-5228
  • Issued: November 1995
  • Content last reviewed: January 2011

Hazard Summary:

In some workplaces flammable and other potentially deadly substances are being used without proper labelling. Young workers are at particular risk if they are working without adequate supervision and proper training and if they are in jobs for which they have no experience.


Chemicals, including many hazardous substances, are found in all sectors: all areas of manufacturing, paint shops, hospitals, kitchens, laundries, offices, dry cleaning plants and many other workplaces. They include exotic new substances used in high-tech industries and common materials like chlorine bleach, cleaning agents and solvents.


The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is a Canada-wide law designed to make sure chemicals and other hazardous substances are handled safely. It has three basic components:

  1. Labelling: You have the right to know when a product you are dealing with is dangerous. Flammable and other potentially deadly substances must be properly labelled.
  2. Material Safety Data Sheets: The Material Safety Data Sheet or "MSDS" on a hazardous substance provides detailed and comprehensive safety information about it. It covers proper handling and protection against overexposure, the health effects of overexposure, and emergency procedures. The MSDS on each hazardous substance in a workplace must be in the workplace and available to the workers.
  3. Worker Education and Training: You must be trained before you handle any hazardous substances. You must be taught about hazardous substances in general and trained in handling the particular materials you will be working with.

Never take a substance for granted. If you are asked to use any substance that is not labelled or if you see a product that is not labelled, ask your supervisor or employer for the MSDS on it. This information is your right under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Do not use substances if they are not properly labelled or if you have not received WHMIS training in handling them.

It is the employer's responsibility to make sure that the requirements of WHMIS are met. This law is enforced by the Ministry of Labour.

For more information, please call the Ministry of Labour Health & Safety Contact Centre.

This Ministry of Labour Alert has no legal effect and does not constitute and is not a substitute for legal advice. If you require specific assistance with respect to the interpretation of a legislative provision and its potential application to you please contact your legal counsel.

Remember that while complying with occupational health and safety laws, you are also required to comply with applicable environmental laws.

Please photocopy Ministry of Labour Alerts, distribute them widely and post them where people will see them.