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3. WHMIS and the Supplier

  • 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.

The duties of the supplier in order to comply with Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) are set out in the federal Hazardous Products Act and the Controlled Products Regulation. This chapter describes those duties, and where applicable, references the relevant sections of the federal law. In this chapter, all references:

More detailed information is available in a publication entitled WHMIS Core Material, A Resource Manual for the Application and Implementation of WHMIS. It can be ordered for $15.00 from:

Publications and Videos
Workers' Compensation Board of B.C.
Telephone: (604) 276-3068

General Information

Who is a supplier?

A supplier is a person who manufactures, processes, packages, sells or imports a hazardous material intended for use in the workplace.

What are the duties of a supplier?

A supplier has three duties.

  1. To determine which hazardous materials intended for use in the workplace are controlled products. This is the "classification" step.
  2. To label all controlled products as a condition of sale [section 13(b) of the Act] or importation [section 14(b) of the Act].
  3. To provide material safety data sheets for controlled products as a condition of sale [section 13(a) of the Act] or importation [section 14(a) of the Act].


What is a controlled product?

A controlled product is any product that can be included in any of the following 6 classes:

  1. Class A Compressed Gas
  2. Class B Flammable and Combustible Material
  3. Class C Oxidizing Material
  4. Class D Poisonous and Infectious Material
  5. Class E Corrosive Material
  6. Class F Dangerously Reactive Material

Two of the classes, Class B and Class D, are subdivided as follows:

  • Class B Flammable and Combustible Material

    Division 1 Flammable Gases
    Division 2 Flammable Liquids
    Division 3 Combustible Liquids
    Division 4 Flammable Solids
    Division 5 Flammable Aerosols
    Division 6 Reactive Flammable Materials

  • Class D Poisonous and Infectious Material

    Division 1 Material Causing Immediate and Serious Toxic Effects
    Subdivision A Very Toxic Material
    Subdivision B Toxic Material

    Division 2 Materials Causing Other Toxic Effects
    Subdivision A Very Toxic Material
    Subdivision B Toxic Material

    Division 3 Biohazardous Infectious Material

How does a supplier determine if a product that he/she sells is a controlled product?

The supplier must refer to Part IV of the Controlled Products Regulation, [sections 32 - 66]. This part of the regulation has a very detailed definition, or criteria, for each WHMIS class, division and subdivision. The supplier must compare the characteristics or properties of the product in question, to the criteria in Part IV. If the properties of the product meet the criteria for any of the classes, divisions or subdivisions, it is a controlled product.

Is the supplier required to test a material to determine whether it is a controlled product?

To determine if a material is a controlled product, the supplier is allowed to use someone else's test results on the material, or where appropriate, someone else's test results on a material that has similar properties. However, if no test results on the material or a material with similar properties are available, the supplier is required to test it to determine if it falls into Classes A, B, C, E, or F.

The supplier is not required to test the material to determine if it falls into Class D, even if no test data exist. To classify a material as belonging to Class D, the supplier is allowed to use information that he/she is or ought to be aware of [section 33 of the regulation].

The Supplier Label

What is a label?

A label can be any mark, sign, device, stamp, seal, sticker, ticket, tag or wrapper.

What information is the supplier required to put on a label?

Illustration 1: Supplier Label

There are 7 items of information that the supplier must put on the label of a controlled product [section 19(1) of the regulation]. See Appendix II: WHMIS Supplier Label.

  1. The name of the product, which can be any one of the chemical name, common name, generic name or trade name.

    If the name of the product is a trade secret, the supplier can use a code name or code number to identify the product [section 19(2)(a) of the regulation].

  2. The name of the supplier.

  3. A reference to a material safety data sheet, which is a statement alerting the user of the controlled product that more information is available. Examples include:
    • See Material Safety Data Sheet, or
    • Consult Material Safety Data Sheet.

  4. Hazard symbol(s) as shown in Appendix I.

    Each WHMIS class has a corresponding hazard symbol, except for Class D, which has 3 hazard symbols, 1 for each of its Divisions.

    In general, the label should include a hazard symbol for each WHMIS class that the controlled product falls into. There is one exception to this general rule, namely, when a controlled product falls into both Divisions 1 and 2 of Class D, only the hazard symbol for Division 1 is required on the label [section 19(5) of the regulation].

  5. Risk phrases, which are short statements describing the hazardous properties of a controlled product. Examples of risk phrases include:
    • rapidly absorbed through skin,
    • eye irritant,
    • causes severe burns,
    • explosive when dry,
    • reacts violently with water.

    The exact wording of the risk phrases is up to the supplier.

  6. Precautionary measures, which are short statements describing the precautions to be taken when handling a controlled product. Examples of precautionary measures include:
    • wear face protection,
    • avoid prolonged contact with skin,
    • store away from heat,
    • when using, do not smoke, or
    • keep container dry.

    The exact wording of the precautionary measures is up to the supplier.

  7. First aid measures, which are short statements describing the immediate steps to be taken, either by the victim or by co-workers, when an accident with a controlled product has occurred. The statements should be specific to the product. First aid measures do not include additional steps to be taken only by a medical professional.


If the container of the controlled product has a volume of 100 millilitres or less, the supplier is allowed to make an abbreviated label that includes items 1 to 4 only [section 19(1)(a) - (d) of the regulation].

What are the design requirements of the supplier label?

The design requirements of the supplier label concern language, a border, layout and colour.

  1. Language The supplier label must be in English and French. The supplier can make one bilingual label or two separate labels, one in English and one in French [section 24(3) of the regulation].

  2. Border The supplier label must have a border, as shown in the sample supplier label in Appendix II. The shape and slant of the hatch marks must be the same as in the sample but the size and spacing of the marks can vary. The border may be on the label or on the container. The border can be any colour that contrasts with the background [section 20(a) of the regulation].

  3. Layout Appendix II shows one of many acceptable formats for the supplier label. As long as all the required information is present, the individual items such as the product name, or the first aid measures, can be located anywhere within the border.

    There is no minimum or maximum size specified for the supplier label. There is only a general requirement that the label be easily legible [section 21(1) of the regulation].

  4. Colour In addition to the requirement that the border be in a colour that contrasts with the background, there is a requirement concerning the colour of the hazard symbols. In general, hazard symbols on the label must be "in a colour that is not likely to create confusion" with a safety mark required by transportation of dangerous goods legislation [section 22(b) of the regulation]. For an explanation of what this means, and the colours that are permitted for hazard symbols, see Chapter 8.

Outer and Inner Containers

What are the duties of the supplier when labelling a controlled product that is packaged in outer and inner containers (for example, a box containing 4 cans of a controlled product)?

As a general rule, every container must have a WHMIS supplier label; however there are 4 exceptions. The supplier does not have to label:

  1. an inner container, if the outer container has a supplier label, and the supplier has a written agreement with the employer that the employer will label the inner container;
  2. an inner container that is actually a package liner, for example, a plastic bag used to contain powder in a box;
  3. an outer container, if the label on the inner container can be seen and read through the outer container, for example, inner containers shrink wrapped in clear plastic; and
  4. an outer container, if the outer container is labelled according to transportation of dangerous goods legislation and all inner containers have WHMIS labels [section 14 of the regulation].

Bulk Shipments

What is a bulk shipment?

"Bulk shipment" means a shipment of a controlled product that is contained without intermediate packaging in

  1. a vessel with a water capacity of more than 454 litres,
  2. a freight container, a road vehicle, a railway vehicle, a portable tank, a freight container carried on a road vehicle, railway vehicle, ship or aircraft, or a portable tank carried on a road vehicle, railway vehicle, ship or aircraft,
  3. the hold of a ship, or
  4. a pipeline.

How should the supplier label a bulk shipment?

When a controlled product is shipped in bulk it is usually transported to a worksite and then transferred to a storage container at the worksite. For the supplier to label the container or vehicle in which the shipment is transported does not achieve the purpose of providing a label for the controlled product once it is at the employer's worksite. Therefore, for a controlled product that is shipped in bulk, the supplier can provide the labelling information to the employer in any one of 3 ways [section 15(1)(a) of the regulation].

  1. The supplier can send a label with the shipping documents.
  2. The supplier can send the labelling information in the form of a written statement, for example, in a letter.
  3. The supplier can add the labelling information to the material safety data sheet for the controlled product.

If the supplier chooses option 2 or 3 above, are the hazard symbols required?

No. If the supplier sends the employer the labelling information in a written statement or material safety data sheet, the hazard symbols can be replaced by a reference to the Class, and where applicable the Division, into which the controlled product falls [section 15(2) of the regulation].

Does the supplier have to send a label, or labelling information, with every bulk shipment of a controlled product?

No. If the employer received the labelling information with an earlier shipment, and that information is still current, the supplier is not required to send the labelling information with subsequent bulk shipments [section 15(1)(b) of the regulation].


This differs from the requirements for controlled products that are not shipped in bulk, in which case labels are required on containers every time the controlled product is sold.

The Supplier Material Safety Data Sheet

What is a material safety data sheet?

A material safety data sheet (MSDS) is a technical document or bulletin that summarizes the health and safety information available about a controlled product. It supplements the warning information on the label.


A supplier MSDS is not intended to provide all the information needed for the safe use of a product. The way a controlled product is used, and consequently the hazard to the worker, can vary from plant to plant. The supplier is not expected to anticipate every required protective measure for every workplace to which the product is sold. The employer, through the worker education program, is expected to tailor the supplier's information to the conditions in the employer's workplace.

What information is required on a supplier MSDS?

A supplier MSDS must have at least 9 sections with the following or similar headings [section 12 (1) and Schedule I of the regulation].

  1. Product Information to identify the product, the supplier/manufacturer, and to describe the use of the product.
  2. Hazardous Ingredients to provide information on the name, concentration and toxicity of each hazardous ingredient of a controlled product.
  3. Physical Data which means information that describes the physical properties of the product, such as whether the product is a solid, liquid or gas.
  4. Fire or Explosion Hazard which includes information on how likely the product is to ignite or explode under various conditions.
  5. Reactivity Data to provide information on the chemical stability of the product, and how likely it is to react with other chemicals.
  6. Toxicological Properties to provide information on how the product enters the body and what its short- and long-term health effects are.
  7. Preventive Measures to provide information on the measures to protect worker health and safety during the transportation, storage, use and disposal of the product, as well as emergency procedures.
  8. First Aid Measures to provide information for the safe evacuation and immediate treatment of anyone overexposed to a controlled product.
  9. Preparation Information which means the name and phone number of the person or group who prepared the MSDS, and the date of preparation.

Within these 9 sections, about 60 specific items of information must be included, if available to the supplier and applicable to the controlled product [section 12(2) of the regulation]. Appendix III shows the 9 sections of the supplier MSDS and the specific information required in each section.

What is the required format of the supplier MSDS?

With a few exceptions, the supplier may adopt any format or design for the MSDS as long as the 9 required sections are included. The following points summarize these exceptions and give some general guidelines for completing the MSDS.

  1. Each of the 9 sections must have a heading the same as or similar to the one shown in Appendix III [section 12(l) of the regulation]. For example, the Product Information section could be entitled Product Information or Product Identification and Use.
  2. Headings cannot be combined to form one heading. There must be 9 separate headings. However, one heading may appear as a subheading under another heading. For example, Fire or Explosion Hazard may appear as a subheading under Physical Data.
  3. The information items shown in Appendix III do not necessarily have to be in the sections or categories shown, but can be put in other sections if it makes sense to do so. For example, it would be acceptable to put the LD50 value for the hazardous ingredients of a controlled product in the Hazardous Ingredients section (as shown in Appendix III) or in the Toxicological Properties section. However, it would not be appropriate to put conditions of flammability in the Toxicological Properties section.
  4. The name and concentration of hazardous ingredients must always appear in the Hazardous Ingredients section as opposed to any other section on the MSDS [section 12(3] of the regulation).
  5. The name and phone number of the person or group who prepared the MSDS, and the date of the MSDS must always appear in the Preparation Information section [section 12(3) of the regulation].
  6. It is not acceptable to replace a required heading with a variety of other headings. For example, the supplier cannot replace the heading Preventive Measures with the headings:
    • Special Protection Information,
    • Special Precautions, and
    • Spill or Leak Procedures.
  7. If for any of the 9 sections, none of the required information is available or applicable, the MSDS must have the words "not available" or "not applicable", as the case may be, under the section heading. The supplier is not permitted to leave a section blank [section 12(6) of the regulation].

In addition to the information shown in Appendix III, is any other information required on the supplier MSDS?

Yes. The MSDS must have any other hazard information about the controlled product of which the supplier is aware or ought to be aware [section 12(11) of the regulation].

For the purpose of completing the MSDS, what is a hazardous ingredient?

A hazardous ingredient is any one of the following:

  1. an ingredient that can be classified as a controlled product;
  2. an ingredient that is on the Ingredient Disclosure List;
  3. an ingredient for which the toxicological properties are unknown; or
  4. an ingredient that the supplier has reasonable grounds to believe may be harmful.

Are there any exemptions to the requirement to list the hazardous ingredients of a controlled product on an MSDS?

Yes. There are 4 circumstances in which hazardous ingredients do not have to be listed on the MSDS.

  1. Concentration Cut-off A hazardous ingredient does not have to be listed on the supplier MSDS if it is present below a concentration of

    1. 0.1% and is a teratogen, embryotoxin, carcinogen, reproductive toxin, respiratory tract sensitizer or mutagen*; or
    2. 1%, unless it is on the Ingredient Disclosure List and the cut-off specified in the list is 0.1% [section 4 of the regulation].

    * These terms are defined in Part IV of the Controlled Products Regulation, [sections 53-57].

  2. Complex Mixtures Hazardous ingredients do not have to be listed on an MSDS if the controlled product is a complex mixture and if the supplier discloses the generic name of the complex mixture on the MSDS [section 5 of the regulation].

    Turpentine and petroleum distillates are examples of complex mixtures. A complex mixture contains many ingredients whose concentrations may vary from batch to batch. In addition, a complex mixture

    1. has a commonly known generic name;
    2. is naturally occurring;
    3. is a fraction of a naturally occurring mixture that results from a separation process; or
    4. is a modification of such a mixture or fraction.

  3. Research and Development Hazardous ingredients do not have to be listed on an MSDS if the controlled product is actually a laboratory sample being tested for research and development purposes, and if the generic chemical identity of the ingredients is disclosed [section 9(2) of the regulation].

  4. Confidential Business Information A hazardous ingredient does not have to be listed on an MSDS if its identity is a valid trade secret.

Are disclaimer statements permitted on the supplier MSDS?

Yes, but only certain types of disclaimers. The regulation [section 25] does not allow the use of disclaimers that contain information that is

  1. not required, and
  2. contradicts information that is required.

The purpose of this requirement is to prohibit the use of disclaimers that could confuse the user about the hazardous properties of a product. For example, the following disclaimer would not be permitted:

"Although this product meets the carcinogenicity criteria there is no substantial proof that it causes cancer."

Examples of disclaimers that would be permitted are:

"The information contained herein is based on data considered accurate. However, no warranty is expressed or implied regarding the accuracy of the data or the results obtained from the use thereof."


"This company assumes no responsibility for personal injury or property damage to vendees, users or third parties caused by the material. Such vendees or users assume all risks associated with the use of the material."

These disclaimers do not diminish the duty of the supplier to provide accurate information.

Does the MSDS have to be updated?

Yes. The MSDS has to be updated if new information becomes available, for example, as the result of further testing of the product [section 29(1) of the regulation]. The MSDS should be updated as soon as reasonably practicable after the new information becomes available.

If no new information becomes available in the 3 years after the MSDS was prepared, the supplier has to review the MSDS to make sure the information is still accurate and re-date the MSDS.

The supplier should provide the updated MSDS to customers buying the controlled product after the change to the MSDS was made. The supplier is not required to send the updated MSDS to previous customers [section 29(2) of the regulation].

What are the language requirements of the supplier MSDS?

The supplier MSDS must be available in French and English at the time of sale or importation. There can be one bilingual document or separate French and English data sheets [section 24(1) of the regulation].

Where 2 separate data sheets exist, the supplier does not have to send both to the employer unless so requested. If no request is made, the supplier would send an MSDS to the employer in the language normally used in the course of the business transaction [section 24(2) of the regulation].

What is a generic MSDS and when is the supplier permitted to prepare one?

A generic MSDS is one that applies to a group of controlled products instead of just one. Its use is permitted when the chemical composition of a group of controlled products is similar, for example, a group of paints where the only difference between products is the pigment used.

For any one product, if either the concentration of an ingredient or the hazard information differs from that of other products in the group, these differences must be disclosed on the MSDS.

A generic MSDS must include the names of all products to which it applies, exactly as those names appear on the labels of the products [section 7 of the regulation].

Imported Controlled Products

What are the duties of the supplier respecting imported controlled products?

For an imported controlled product, the supplier (i.e. importer) must either prepare, or if possible obtain from the off-shore source, a supplier label and MSDS on importation [section 14 of the Act].

There is an exemption to this general requirement [section 23(1) of the regulation]. The supplier does not have to provide a label or MSDS on importation if 2 conditions are met:

  1. the controlled product is to be labelled or repackaged in Canada; and
  2. the supplier provides certain information about the product, and where requested a sample of the product, to an inspector in each province into which the product is imported.

What information must the supplier provide to an inspector?

The supplier must provide an inspector with a written statement that has the following information:

  1. the intention to import the controlled product;
  2. the name and type (for example, acid, base, biological hazard, flammable gas, etc.) of controlled product;
  3. the address of the workplace where the imported controlled product is to be labelled or repackaged; and
  4. the names of all provinces into which the controlled product is to be imported [section 23(1)(a) of the regulation].

This written statement is valid for 3 years [section 23(2) of the regulation].

In addition to the written statement, the inspector also has the right to request the following from the supplier:

  1. a sample of the controlled product, on or before importation;
  2. the dates and places of importation; and
  3. the approximate quantity of the controlled product to be imported [section 23(1)(b) of the regulation].

The imported controlled product cannot be used or sold without a label or MSDS [sections 23(3) and (4) of the regulation].

What are the labelling duties of the supplier if the imported controlled product is delivered directly to the workplace of the buyer?

In general, the supplier is responsible for making sure that the controlled product is labelled, before it is used by the buyer. There is one exemption to this general rule. The supplier does not have to label the controlled product if he/she has a written agreement with the buyer, that the buyer will apply a supplier label to the controlled product [section 23(5) of the regulation].


Are there any exemptions from the federal WHMIS legislation?

Yes. The federal WHMIS legislation does not apply to the sale or importation of any

  • restricted products when packaged as consumer products;
  • explosives within the meaning of the Explosives Act;
  • cosmetics, drugs, food and devices within the meaning of the Food and Drugs Act;
  • pest control products within the meaning of the Pest Control Products Act;
  • prescribed substances within the meaning of the Nuclear Energy Act;
  • wood or products made of wood;
  • manufactured articles;
  • tobacco or products made of tobacco;
  • hazardous wastes.

What is a restricted product?

A restricted product is a product that is sold to the public but its sale is regulated by the federal Hazardous Products Act. Paint stripper is an example of a restricted product. It is sold to consumers but must be packaged and labelled according to requirements set out in the Hazardous Products Act.

What does "packaged as a consumer product" mean?

A product is packaged as a consumer product when

  1. it is in a container that is available for sale to the general public, and
  2. it meets the labelling and other packaging requirements for consumer products under the Hazardous Products Act.

What is a manufactured article?

A manufactured article is any article which meets three conditions:

  1. it is formed to a specific shape or design during manufacture;
  2. its intended use when in that form depends in whole or in part on its shape or design as manufactured;
  3. under normal conditions of use it will not release or otherwise cause a person to be exposed to a controlled product.


"Normal conditions of use" does not include the release of a controlled product during the installation, maintenance or misuse of a manufactured article.

The following examples are given to further explain the exemption for manufactured articles.

  • Welding rods are not manufactured articles because, although formed to a specific design, during use they release controlled products previously contained in the rods.
  • Piping, whether made of mild, galvanized or stainless steel, is a manufactured article because it does not release controlled products during its intended use of conveying fluids from one point to another.
  • Sheets of friction materials which contain asbestos and which are manufactured with the intent of later being cut or shaped to form specific friction products are not manufactured articles.
  • Specific friction products which contain asbestos, such as brake shoes fitted with pre-arced linings, disc brake pads and clutch friction plates are manufactured articles. While workers may be exposed to asbestos fibres during installation or maintenance of these articles, exposure is not likely during their use for the purposes of braking or engaging moving parts.
  • A cylinder produced for the purposes of containing acetylene is a manufactured article. Once filled with acetylene, however, the cylinder is a container for a controlled product and, when sold as such, must be provided with labels and data sheets.
  • A refrigerator is a manufactured article made up of various components including a system for containing compressed gases. Unlike the compressed gas cylinder, the refrigerator is not considered to be a container of a controlled product.

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