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1. Overview of WHMIS

  • ISBN: 978-1-4249-6996-8
  • Revised: August 2008
  • Content last reviewed: June 2009

This guideline is being updated to reflect changes that take effect July 1, 2016 as amendments to the WHMIS regulation, Regulation 860, come into force.

What is WHMIS?

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is a Canada-wide system designed to give employers and workers information about hazardous materials used in the workplace. Under WHMIS, there are three ways in which information on hazardous materials is to be provided:

  1. labels on the containers of hazardous materials;
  2. material safety data sheets to supplement the label with detailed hazard and precautionary information; and
  3. worker education programs.

The supplier of the hazardous material provides the labels and material safety data sheets to the employer. The employer passes the information on to the worker and provides education programs.

Why was WHMIS developed?

The purpose of WHMIS is to give all working Canadians a uniform and appropriate quantity and quality of information about hazardous materials used in the workplace.

Many Canadian workers are exposed to hazardous materials on the job. In the past, information about these materials has often been incomplete, inconsistent or not available at all. This means that employers and workers were often unaware of the hazards of a material in the workplace, and of the necessary handling precautions. This lack of awareness can cause serious occupational illness and injury.

By setting standards for the type and amount of information to be given to the users of hazardous materials, it is expected that accidents and diseases caused by hazardous materials in the workplace will be reduced.

Who developed WHMIS?

WHMIS was developed jointly by labour, industry and federal, provincial and territorial governments.

To what workplaces does WHMIS apply?

In Ontario, WHMIS applies to all workplaces covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and to all federal government workplaces.

To what hazardous materials does WHMIS apply?

WHMIS applies to hazardous materials known as controlled products. For more information on what a controlled product is, see Chapter 3, under Classification.

How is WHMIS put into effect across Canada?

WHMIS is put into effect by a combination of federal and provincial laws.

Who enforces the WHMIS legislation?

In Ontario, both the federal and provincial WHMIS legislation is enforced by provincial Ministry of Labour inspectors, except in federal government workplaces, where Human Resources Development Canada, Labour Program inspectors enforce the legislation.

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