WHMIS Symbols & Meanings: Ensuring Awareness in Your Workplace

bottle with Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) applies to distributors, importers and users of hazardous material imported into Canada’s borders.

WHMIS also applies to storage and handling of such material in workplaces across Canada. Since Dec. 1, 2015, workplaces have to ensure WHMIS labelling where hazardous materials are involved.

We will be looking at each symbol and what it represents. Leveraging this information is pivotal to keeping your employees and work site safe.


WHMIS Symbols and What They Mean

WHMIS is in alignment with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

Here is a concise description of what each WHMIS symbol means:

Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)Health Hazard:

Substances labelled with the health hazard sign could cause irreparable health issues. The list of materials below usually comes with this designation:

  • Substances that target organ toxicity
  • Respiratory sensitizers
  • Compounds liable to cause reproductive toxicity
  • Materials with mutagenic potential
  • Chemicals that promote inhalation toxicity
  • Carcinogens

Prolonged exposure to any of these listed items should be avoided. And if they are required for carrying out some tasks at the workplace, they should be handled by well-trained personnel.


Materials labelled with a flame are more likely to cause an inferno and may have fast-igniting capabilities.

  • Self-reactive compounds
  • Self-heating material
  • Pyrophoric substances
  • Organic peroxides
  • Flammable liquids, dry materials, and gases
  • Flammable gas emitters
  • Flame oxidizers (usually has a flame burning over a circle as its sign. Used to represent materials that emit considerable amount of oxidation that could magnify the impact of potentially-explosive material)

Materials labelled with the flame sign need proper handling to prevent a workplace accident.

Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)

Exclamation Mark

Materials labelled with an exclamation mark could cause less severe health problems:

  • Skin and eye irritants
  • Irritants of the respiratory tract
  • Harmful materials to the ozone layer
  • Derma sensitizer
  • Acute toxicity materials

Staff members with extensive training should be saddled with handling these materials. Any handling mistakes could be disastrous.

Exploding Bomb

Substances with high reactivity potential are labelled with the exploding bomb sign.

Most of these materials are sensitive to heat, making proper handling and storage a must.

Other WHMIS Symbols

Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)Gas Cylinder Gases under high pressure usually feature this label. There is a high explosion or projectile risk from objects labelled with this symbol.

And it is essential to look out for essential information on the cylinder’s contents. It could be a hazardous gas, doubling the risks attached to handling such containers.

Corrosion – has corrosive potential to damage eyes, skin and metal.

Skull and crossbones – potentially fatal or acutely toxic from short-term exposure.

Biohazards – containers with this label usually have materials liable to cause serious illnesses. Viruses, bacteria, parasites, and the like fall within this category.


Two borders are common with warning labels. With these additional signs, handlers and users of these materials can get ample information on the content or containers potential danger.

Octagonal shape – Dangerous content, should be handled carefully.

Upside down triangle – Has three designations showing container’s potential danger. CAUTION (temporary injury), DANGER (potential permanent injury); EXTREME DANGER (permanent injury or death).

Advanced Consulting and Training – Professional Safety Solutions for WHMIS & Beyond

Workplace safety is pivotal to ensuring your workers and equipment get the right protection. With proper policies and safety procedures like WHMIS, hazard management and more, you can maximize workplace safety.

Advanced Consulting and Training Ltd. has worked to provide professional consulting and training services since inception. A dedicated team of safety and health experts works to deliver proven, updated services to Canadian businesses. With a massive list of licenses and accreditation, we are your best bet for improved, sustained workplace safety solutions.

Contact our team today. We are always ready to offer you world-class safety consulting services.


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