A Brief History of WHMIS

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, or WHMIS, is the standard of handling hazardous materials that companies in Canada need to follow. It disseminates and enforces the guidelines described by the federal Hazardous Materials Information Review Act and Hazardous Products Act to ensure safety in workplaces. The current WHMIS was updated in 2015 but before that, the history of WHMIS go way back in 1988.


The Creation of WHMIS

The information system was formed to uphold the rights of Canadian workers to be informed about the different hazardous materials and chemicals they use when working. It was created to prevent serious health and safety effects of these hazardous materials, including death, illness and damage to property.

Canadian WHMIS logo

An older Canadian WHMIS Logo.

A tripartite steering committee that was represented by the government, industry spokespersons, and labour representatives developed the WHMIS. The composition of the tripartite body ensured that the best interests of the parties involved were considered. After a series of legislation done on a federal, provincial, and territorial level, the WHMIS law was enacted on October 31, 1988.

The Labour Branch of Human Resources Development Canada for federal workplaces and the agencies in-charge of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) of the individual states and territories enforces the WHMIS. Meanwhile, the acting secretariat for the partnership of stakeholders is Health Canada.

There are four key components that make up the information system: classification of hazards, labeling of containers, accomplishment of material safety data sheets (MSDS), and education and training programs for workers.

Hazardous Products Act (HPA)

The Hazardous Products Act, along with Controlled Products Regulation, is the foundation of WHMIS. It specifies the responsibilities of all stakeholders in adherence to the WHMIS. Below are the responsibilities indicated in HPA:

  • WHMIS 2015 safety data sheet changesSuppliers – All suppliers who are importing or selling hazardous products for use or storage in Canadian workplaces must ensure that the containers are labelled with the required information. They must also ensure that material safety data sheet (MSDS) is available for their customers. The MSDS should explain the nature of these hazardous products.
  • Employers – They must set-up education and training programs for all workers exposed to all types of hazardous materials while at work. Employers must also make certain that containers are labelled and MSDS is available to their workers.
  • Workers – Workers who are exposed to hazardous products while on the premise of work must attend the training programs established by their employers. They must also use the information to work safely while handling or working near any hazardous products.


Countries around the world have different hazardous materials regulation. To set an international standard, the United Nations created the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The main elements of the GHS are standardized hazard testing criteria, universal warning pictograms, and harmonized safety data sheets.

A transition plan was created to help all stakeholders adapt to the new information system and was completed last December 1, 2018. As of today, all manufacturers, importers, distributors, and employers must comply with the regulations of WHMIS 2015.

Advanced Consulting & Training Offers WHMIS/GHS Training

Ensure that your workplace is following all WHMIS 2015/GHS regulations with training from Advanced Consulting & Training in Ottawa. We have a team of certified health and safety professionals who can deliver quality and cost-effective training solutions to suit your needs. Advanced Consulting & Training is approved and accredited by CPO, TSSA, and WSIB. Contact us today for more information relating to safety consulting and certification courses such as:


Mandatory Safety Awareness

Manager Due Diligence



Please add Content in FAQ