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WHMIS Labels

Written by Steve Stephenson May 16, 2013

The Workplace Hazardous Material Information System (WHMIS) label is used in Canada to mark products and containers to inform people about hazardous materials and provide information so that people can protect themselves from those hazards. WHMIS labels are required by law, and the information to be included on WHMIS labels is specified by law.

Either the material manufacturer, or the importer, must place WHMIS labels on the original containers holding controlled (hazardous) products. Employers are responsible for maintaining the labels and placing WHMIS labels on secondary containers, when those labels are required.

The following categories of information must be provided on supplier applied WHMIS labels:

  1. Product Identifier - this is the product name exactly as provided on the Material Safety Data Sheet.
  2. Supplier Identifier - the name of the company that supplied the MSDA. This is typically the product manufacturer.
  3. Hazard Symbols - these symbols visually show the WHMIS classification for the hazardous material.
  4. Risk Phrases - brief standard statements describing the major hazards. The statements are based on the WHMIS classification of the product.
  5. Precautionary Measures - descriptions of the essential precautions, specific protective equipment, and emergency measures that need to be taken.
  6. First Aid Measures - the immediate steps that are to be taken by trained first aid  providers, should there be an incident involving the material.
  7. MSDS Reference – the label is limited in size and can only provide key information. The label should inform people that there is an MSDS, and recommend they read the MSDS for additional information.

There is an exception to the above for laboratory samples of controlled products that are less than ten kilograms, or less than 100 ml, if the material is a liquid. In those circumstances WHIMS labels are not required, if there is a label which provides the following in both English and French:

  • The product name.
  • The chemical identity, or generic chemical identity, of an ingredient of the controlled product, if it is known.
  • The name of the supplier.
  • The statement "Hazardous Laboratory Sample. For hazard information or in an emergency, call..." followed by an emergency telephone number.

Who is responsible for WHMIS labels?

There are two basic types of WHMIS labels: the supplier label and the workplace label.

Suppliers are responsible for labeling hazardous materials. The supplier is usually the manufacturer, but it may be an importer for hazardous materials that enter Canada without WHMIS labels.

Employers are responsible for workplace labeling, and for replacing damaged or mission labels on containers in the workplace. This includes placing WHMIS labels on controlled products, on decanted products (secondary containers), on laboratory chemicals, on piping, and on bulk containers where a controlled product is being held or is flowing.

Note: it is acceptable to label pipes and reaction vessels in other ways such as using color coded pipe markers. However, workers must be trained to recognize and understand those labels.

There are no rules about the physical form of WHMIS labels. They may be a mark, sign, stamp, sticker, seal, ticket, tag or wrapper. The "label" may be attached, imprinted, stenciled or embossed on the controlled product or its container. The most common WHMIS labels are adhesive-backed vinyl labels.

WHMIS Labels - Supplier Labels

A supplier label must:

  • appear on all controlled products received at a workplace in Canada.
  • contain the seven categories of information listed above.
  • have all text in both English and French.
  • have the WHMIS standard hatched border.

WHMIS Labels - Workplace Labels

If material marked with a supplier label is placed into a secondary container, in most cases that container must be labeled with a workplace WHMIS label. A workplace label:

  • must be on all controlled products produced in a workplace
  • must be on all secondary containers
  • may appear in placard form on controlled products received in bulk from a supplier
  • must have the following information:
    • product identifier (product name)
    • information for the safe handling of the product
    • statement that the MSDS is available
  • may contain the WHMIS hazard symbols or other pictograms.

These are the minimum requirements for workplace labels. Employers may include more information on the labels, but they are not required to do so. Labels prepared in the workplace are not required to have hatched borders.

For example, section 10.41 on "Replacing Labels" in the Canada Occupational Safety and Health Regulations states:

"Where, in a work place, a label applied to a controlled product or a container of a controlled product becomes illegible or is removed from the controlled product or the container, the employer shall replace the label with a work place label that discloses the following information in respect of the controlled product

(a) the product identifier;
(b) the hazard information; and
(c) a statement indicating that a material safety data sheet is available in the work place."

When a controlled product is moved into containers for resale or delivery outside of your workplace, you must put a supplier label on the containers. When a bulk material is used within your workplace, and it is transferred to other (usually smaller) containers, only a workplace label is required on those containers.

WHMIS Labels - Workplace Labeling Exceptions

There are two exceptions to the workplace labeling requirements:

  1. When a controlled product is placed into a secondary container and will immediately be used, labeling is not required.
  2. When a controlled product is placed into a secondary container and remains "under the control of the person who decanted it" and if the controlled product is completely used during one shift, the only label that is required is a label with the name of the product (product identifier). However, if the controlled product is not completely used, or if more than one person will be in control of the material, a workplace label is required.

What Symbols Are Used On WHMIS labels?

Supplier labels must include hazard symbols that visually show the classification of the hazardous material. There are eight classifications. These are represented by standard symbols. These are:


Class A - Compressed Gas

  • Contents under high pressure
  • Cylinder may explode or burst when heated, dropped or damaged


Class B - Flammable and Combustible Material

  • May catch fire when exposed to heat, spark or flame
  • May burst into flames


Class C - Oxidizing Metal

  • May cause fire or explosion when in contact with wood, fuels or other combustible material


Class D, Division 1 - Poisonous and Infectious Material: Immediate and serious toxic effects

  • Poisonous substance.
  • A single exposure may be fatal or cause serious or permanent damage to health.


Class D, Division 2 - Poisonous and Infectious Material: Other toxic effects

  • Poisonous substance.
  • May cause irritation.
  • Repeated exposure may cause cancer, birth defects, or other permanent damage.


Class D, Division 3 - Poisonous and Infectious Material: Biohazardous infectious materials

  • May cause disease or serious illness.
  • Drastic exposures may result in death.


Class E - Corrosive Material.

  • Can cause burns to eyes, skin or respiratory system


Class F - Dangerously Reactive Material.

  • May react violently causing explosion, fire or release of toxic gases, when exposed to light, heat, vibration or extreme temperatures

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