Faculty of Arts

An Introduction to WHMIS for Visual Art Students

WHMIS — Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System

(An excerpt from WHMIS The Basics, WorkSafe BC 2005. Workers also refer to students)

The three key elements of WHMIS:
  1. WHMIS labels: Labels on controlled products alert workers to the identity of the product, hazards, and precautionary measures.
  2. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS): Technical bulletins provide detailed hazard and precautionary information.
  3. WHMIS education and training programs: The employer provides education and training for workers so that they can work safely with and near controlled products.

Workers (students) need to know how WHMIS works, the hazards of controlled products in their workplace (studio), and the safe work procedures they must follow.

WHMIS controlled products are classified by their hazard. There are six hazard classes and eight hazard symbols that identify the specific hazards. (There are three symbols in Class D.) The eight hazard symbols identify the specific hazards of controlled products. After a controlled product has been classified, the following three WHMIS elements are used to communicate health and safety information:


This class includes compressed gases, dissolved gases, and gases liquefied by compression or refrigeration.


This class includes solids, liquids, and gases capable of catching fire in the presence of a spark or open flame under normal working conditions.


These materials increase the risk of fire if they come in contact with flammable or combustible materials.

Division 1: Materials Causing Immediate and Serious Toxic Effects

These materials can cause death or immediate injury when a person is exposed to small amounts. Examples: sodium cyanide, hydrogen sulphide

Division 2: Materials Causing Other Toxic EFFECTS

These materials can cause life-threatening and serious long-term health problems as well as less severe but immediate reactions in a person who is repeatedly exposed to small amounts.

Division 3: Biohazardous Infectious MATERIAL

These materials contain harmful micro-organisms that have been classified into Risk Groups 2, 3, and 4 as determined by the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Medical Research Council of Canada.


This class includes caustic and acid materials that can destroy the skin or eat through metals. Examples: sodium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid, nitric acid


These products may self-react dangerously (for example, they may explode) upon standing or when exposed to physical shock or to increased pressure or temperature, or they emit toxic gases when exposed to water.

WHMIS Labels

The purpose of labels is to alert workers to the main hazards of controlled products and provide instructions for safe handling, and to direct workers to the MSDS for more information. The two types of WHMIS labels are the supplier label and the workplace label. Other means of identification may be used where appropriate (such as warning signs, colour codes, placards).

SUPPLIER LABEL contains the following:
  • Product nameFirst aid measures
  • Hazard symbols
  • Supplier identifier
  • Risk phrases
  • Reference to MSDS
  • Precautionary measures
WORKPLACE LABEL contains the following:
  • Product name
  • Safe handling procedures
  • Reference to the MSDS

MSDS Information

A Material Safety Data Sheet is a technical bulletin that provides specific hazard information, safe handling information, and emergency procedures for a controlled product. Since the MSDS contains detailed health and safety information specific to each controlled product, it should be used as a key source of information for developing training programs and safe work procedures. It is also a valuable reference source of health and safety information for workers, health and safety committees, and emergency service personnel. The MSDS must be made available and accessible to workers.

MSDS — Sample Format

SECTION 1 — Product Information

This section identifies the product, the manufacturer, and the supplier; and it describes the intended product use. It also provides information about where to contact the manufacturer and supplier for information and/or in case of emergency.

SECTION 2 — Hazardous Ingredients

This section lists the specific chemical names, percentages, and acute toxicity data for the individual components.

SECTION 3 — Physical Data

This section contains general information on physical and chemical properties such as the specific gravity, boiling point, and evaporation rate.

SECTION 4 — Fire and Explosion Data

This section lists the conditions under which the product may catch fire or explode, as well as information for developing strategies and procedures to deal with fire and explosion hazards.

SECTION 5 — Reactivity Data

This section lists conditions and other substances that should be avoided to prevent dangerous reactions.

SECTION 6 — Toxicological Properties

This section identifies how the substance enters the body and the possible health effects from single or repeated exposures. It also identifies if the product has known long-term health effects such as liver or kidney damage, sensitization, cancer, or reproductive effects.

SECTION 7 — Preventive Measures

This section includes information on required protective equipment, as well as on how to safely clean up spills and how to safely use, handle, store, dispose of, and transport the product.

SECTION 8 — First Aid Measures

This section lists specific instructions for the immediate treatment of a worker who has inhaled or swallowed the product or who has had skin or eye contact with the product.

SECTION 9 — Preparation Information

This section lists the date the MSDS was prepared and who prepared it.

WHMIS Implementation — Education and Training

An employer must ensure workers receive general WHMIS education on:
  • Hazards of controlled products in use at the workplace
  • Rights and responsibilities
  • Content required on labels and MSDS, and the significance of this information
  • Elements of the WHMIS program
An employer must ensure instruction in specific procedures safe use, storage, handling and disposal of a controlled product in transit:
  • in case of an escape of a controlled product
  • in an emergency involving a controlled product
Workers who are successfully educated and trained in WHMIS should be able to answer these four questions:
  • What are the hazards of the product?
  • How do I protect myself?What should I do in case of an emergency?
  • Where do I obtain more information?