WHMIS 101: The Evolution of Canada’s Chemical Safety Legislation

A Primer on the Evolution of Canada’s Chemical Safety Legislation


In 2015, the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) was formally incorporated into Canada’s legislation governing the safe handling of chemicals in the workplace.  Originally known by its acronym and the year it was enacted, WHMIS 1988 (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) was established to dovetail Canadian and U.S. regulations, allowing for the trade of chemical products to flow across their shared border with one label and SDS per product.

Canada’s implementation of GHS does not replace current law, but rather, builds upon and amends existing WHMIS regulations.  Among the most significant amendments include:

  • Products previously known as “controlled” are now called “hazardous.”
  • Material Safety Data Sheets are now known as Safety Data Sheets, and unlike MSDSs, do not have an expiry date.
  • SDSs are longer and more detailed – requiring more information on the hazardous material.
  • Pictograms on labels and SDSs have changed. While previous pictograms are shown within a black circle, GHS pictograms have a red square around the image.
  • While WHMIS 1988 had 6 Hazard Classes and 3 divisions, WHMIS 2015 has 32 Hazard Classes with several divisions.
  • WHMIS 2015 Hazard Classes are divided into two categories – physical and health. These categories contain subcategories and/or types within them.
  • Labels are required on all products considered hazardous.
  • There are two types of labels – supplier labels and workplace labels.