WHMIS (1988) Online Course

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) (2015) provides health and safety information about many hazardous materials that are used in the workplace, which are called controlled products. Under WHMIS, workers have the right to receive information about each controlled product they use (identity, hazards, safety precautions). 

Compliance with WorkSafeBC, WHMIS and related legislation are the minimum standards acceptable for working at VCH Research Institute.

It is MANDATORY to obtain WHMIS training prior to working in a lab.  If you are taking the UBC Chemical Safety Course it will cover WHMIS (separate training is not required).  However, if you do not need to take the UBC Chemical Safety Course it is mandatory that you take the VCHRI in-house electronic WHMIS course. All VCH Research Institute employees and affiliates are encouraged to exceed these minimum legal standards. All possible preventive measures are taken to eliminate accidental injuries, occupational diseases and risks to personal security. To get started on the in-house VCHRI electronic course, either read the information below and/or watch the WHMIS video and then complete the quiz at the end. 

WHMIS at work

Responsibilites of the employer and employees identified by WHMIS legislation are as follows:


  • Provide up-to-date SDSs (not more than three years old) for all controlled products they sell or produce.
  • Provide supplier labels on all containers of controlled products they sell or produce.


  • Know exactly what hazardous products are present, and how they are used, handled, or stored in the workplace
  • Keep and maintain accurate records about the identity and amount of hazardous products
  • Identify the hazards associated with the use, storage, handling, and disposal of the hazardous products
  • Ensure that WHMIS requirements regarding labels and safety data sheets (SDSs) are met
  • Provide workers with easy access to information, including SDSs
  • Develop compliant WHMIS labels and SDSs for hazardous products produced for use in the work place
  • Educate and train workers who may be exposed
  • Develop procedures for
    • Safe use, handling, storage and disposal of a hazardous product
    • How to protect workers who may be exposed
    • What must be done in an emergency or spill that involves the hazardous product
  • Ensure that all containers of controlled products in their workplace have SDSs and WHMIS labels (supplier labels, workplace labels, or other acceptable means of identification as appropriate).


  • Know and understand the information on labels and MSDSs.
  • Use the information they receive through education and training to handle controlled products safely.
  • Inform employers if labels are illegible or missing.

WorkSafeBC Staff:

  • Administer WHMIS legislation.
  • Provide general information about WHMIS to employers and workers.
  • Ensure compliance with both federal and provincial WHMIS legislation.
What is WHMIS

WHMIS informs workers about the hazards and injuries that can occur if controlled products are not used or stored properly. WHMIS also helps reduce workplace injury and disease by communicating specific health and safety information about the controlled products to reduce exposure to hazardous materials.

There are eight hazard classifications of WHMIS, each with its own symbol identifying the specific hazard of the controlled product. Once a controlled product has been classified, the following three WHMIS elements are used to communicate health and safety information:

  • WHMIS Labels - A WHMIS product label(s) will alert you to the hazards and risks associated with using WHMIS controlled products and the precautionary measures you will need to follow. The WHMIS label(s) will inform you where you can obtain more information on the product, i.e. the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).
  • Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) - MSDS are technical bulletins that provide detailed hazard and precautionary information, safe handling, and emergency procedures for the product. Be aware of where the MSDS sheets are kept in your lab for the products you use. MSDS need to be updated every three years.
  • WHMIS Education and Training Programs - VCH Research Institute provides education and training for workers so they can work safely using controlled products. Workers are required to know how WHMIS works, the hazards of controlled products, and the safe work procedures that must be followed.

Hazardous Material Information

Chemical Inventory - An annual inventory of hazardous materials must be completed to identify all hazardous substances and their quantities at the workplace. A chemical inventory includes the chemical name and formula of the material, the size of its container and the primary WHMIS hazard class. Annual inventories allow for the following:

  • To check ethers and other chemicals with limited shelf life.
  • To remove surplus hazardous chemicals.
  • To remove chemicals that you will not use, or have not used in the past 1-3 years.
  • To correct incompatible storage.
  • To identify which chemicals are present.

Chemical Waste Procedures VCH Research Institute has a secured chemical waste storage room located in the Jack Bell Research Centre. This room is available to all research groups within VCH Research.

Radiation WasteVCH Research Institute has a radiation decay room available to our research groups. Please contact Payman Hojabrpour or Dr. Duronio for procedure(s) and access to this room.

Gas Cylinders- All full and empty gas cylinders (e.g. carbon dioxide, O2) must be properly secured at all times. Ask your PI or Lab Supervisor where your lab's full and empty tanks are stored. Each lab is responsible for ordering their own tanks. Be sure to rip off the 'full' label once cylinders are empty.

WHMIS - The WHMIS course is mandatory for all new staff and students working at VCH Research Institute research sites. There is a quiz at the end of this section and a copy will be sent to your supervisor.

Classification of Controlled Products

A controlled product is a product that falls into one or more of the hazard classes described below. Manufacturers and suppliers classify these products and assign one or more of the appropriate hazard symbols. Employers must educate and train workers to recognize the eight hazard symbols to know what they mean. The following are brief descriptions of each of the hazard classes.

Class A: Compressed Gas
Contents are under pressure and must be stored in a secure manner. Class A includes compressed gases, Compressed liquids, dissolved gases in liquid, and cryogenic gases (contact with liquid may cause frostbite). If the pressure in the container is greater than 40 psi, the gas is a Class A product. The cylinder may explode if exposed to heat or may become a missile if punctured or dropped.< br/> Examples: oxygen, nitrogen, chlorine, carbon dioxide, helium, oxyacetylene and propane

Class B: Flammable and Combustible Material
This class includes solids, liquids and gases capable of catching fire or exploding in the presence of an ignition source under normal working conditions. There are 6 divisions of Class B.

  • Division 1: Flammable Gases
    Compressed gases (class A) that form a flammable mixture in the air.
    Examples: butane, propane, hydrogen gases

  • Division 2: Flammable Liquids
    Liquids that have a flash point below 37.8 degrees celcius. The flash point is the lowest temperature at which the vapours from these liquids catch fire from nearby sparks or open flames.
    Examples: acetone, gasoline, isopropyl alcohol

  • Division 3: Combustible Liquids
    Liquids that have a flash point of 37.8 degrees celcius or more, but less than 93.3 degrees celcius.
    Examples: kerosene, mineral spirits, butyl cellosolve

  • Division 4: Flammable Solids
    Special group of solids that meet very specific technical criteria such as the ability to cause fire through friction or can ignite and burn so vigorously and persistently that they create a hazard.
    Examples: magnesium alloys, beryllium powder

  • Division 5: Flammable Aerosols
    Products which are contained in aerosol containers and either the product or the propellant may catch fire.
    Examples: butane, isobutane

  • Division 6: Reactive Flammable Material
    There are two (2) ways these products can react dangerously, either they can create heat spontaneously or catch fire under normal conditions or can create heat when they come into contact with the air. The second reactive way is if they emit a flammable gas or can catch fire when they come in to contact with water.
    Examples: aluminum alkyl compounds, metallic sodium, white phosphorous

Class C: Oxidizing Material
Oxidizing materials readily yield oxygen or its equivalents and stimulate the combustion (oxidation) of organic matter. May cause fire if in contact with flammable and combustible materials, even without a source of ignition or oxygen. May increase the speed and intensity of a fire and cause normally non-combustible materials to burn rapidly. May react with other chemicals to produce toxic gas.< br/> Examples: oxygen, organic peroxides, nitrates, perchloric acid sodium hypochlorite

Class D: Poisonous and Infectious Material
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< br/> Examples: hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen chloride, sodium cyanide

Class D: Poisonous and Infectious Material
Division 2: Materials Causing Other Toxic Effects
Exposure to these materials may cause life-threatening, cumulative and serious long term health problems as well as less severe but immediate reactions. Can cause cancer, allergic reactions, disease of organs, neurological problems, reproductive problems, sensitization, and eye, skin, and respiratory system irritation.< br/> Examples: acetone (irritant), toluene isocyanate, asbestos (cancer causing), xylene, isocyanates, chemotherapeutics, silica, lead, benzene

Class D: Poisonous and Infectious Material
Division 3: Biohazardous Infectious Material
Materials containing harmful micro-organisms which are classified into risk groups 2, 3 and 4. These classifications come from the World Health Organization (WHO), Federal Government or the Medical Research Council of Canada.< br/> Examples: Hepatitis A, B, C viruses, culture diagnostic specimens, MRSA, HIV, E. coli, salmonella

Class E: Corrosive Material
These are caustic or acidic materials that can destroy skin or eat through metals. They can cause mild to severe burns, burn eyes and skin on contact, or burn tissues of respiratory system if vapours inhaled.< br/> Examples: caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, bleach, ammonia, nitric acid

Class F: Dangerously Reactive Material
These products may become unstable or react with other materials to cause fires or explosions if they undergo vigorous polymerization decomposition or condensation, become self reactive with increased pressure, temperature or shock, or react vigorously with water or incompatible materials; can give off toxic gases.< br/> Examples: barium, lithium, magnesium, phosphorus, acetylene, potassium cyanide

WHMIS Labels

Suppliers Labels

WHMIS requires supplier labels be placed on containers of all controlled products sold for use in the workplace. Supplier labels are recognized by the distinct WHMIS border (see Acetone photo). All suppliers who sell controlled products must produce a 'supplier label' for each product.

There are seven requirements for a supplier’s label:

  • Product Identifier - Often the chemical name of a product or the trade name, common name, code name, or code number
  • Hazard Symbol(s) - One or more of the eight WHMIS symbols indicating the hazard classes of the controlled product.
  • Risk Phrases - Phrases that alert workers to the specific hazard(s) of the product. There should be at least one risk phrase for each hazard symbol.
  • Precautionary Statements - Statements that describe essential precautions workers should take and specific personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE) they should wear when handling, using, storing and disposing of the product.
  • First Aid Measures - Statements that describe immediate first aid measures required.
  • Supplier identification - The name of the supplier, manufacturer or distributor, preferably with the address and telephone number.
  • Reference to MSDS - A statement indicating that a MSDS is available.

Workplace Labels

Workplace labels are required on the following:

  • Containers where the supplier label is missing or not readable
  • Containers for each controlled product produced and used on-site
  • Secondary containers after a product has been transferred from the original container

These are the three types of information required on a workplace label:

  • Product identifier
  • Safe handling information and personal protective equipment and clothing(PPE)
  • Reference to MSDS and if the supplier produced an MSDS for the product

How to design the label is fairly flexible. Here are some examples:

  • Information can be written directly on the container using permanent marker
  • Hazard symbols and WHMIS borders are optional
  • Information can be written in the language of choice to fit the specific workplace

Other Means of Identification

In some circumstances where workplace labels are impractical, employers may use other means of identification such as warning signs, symbols, placards, and coding systems, i.e., colours, numbers, or letters. These can be used as long as the identifications system is communicated effectively and understood by the workers.

These other means of identification can be used when the product is:

  • used in a laboratory, i.e., in transfer containers such as beakers and flasks.
  • transferred by the worker into a container for use during the same shift if that worker maintains control of the new container and finishes use in that shift.
  • contained in a transfer or reaction system such as a pipe, reaction vessel, tank car, or conveyor belt.
  • identified as hazardous waste produced in the workplace.
Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

What are the MSDS for?

  • MSDS are technical bulletins that provide you with specific hazard information, safe handling information and emergency procedures for a controlled product.
  • MSDS contain detailed health and safety information specific to each controlled product.
  • MSDS are a key source of information for training and safe work procedures.
  • MSDS are key references to help prevent exposures, illness, and possibly death.
  • MSDS are valuable reference sources of health and safety information for workers, OH&S committees, and emergency personnel.

For more in-depth information about MSDS, click on the links below:

  1. Product Information
  2. Hazardous Ingredients
  3. Physical Data
  4. Fire and Explosion Data
  5. Reactivity Data
  6. Toxicological Properties
  7. Preventative Measures
  8. First Aid Measures
  9. Preparation Information

Glossary of Common Terms used in MSDSs

Click here to view the Canadian Centre for Occupation Health and Safety's database of Glossary of Common Terms used in MSDS. (This will also help you in section 15 of the quiz.)

MSDS Database - Occupational Health & Safety Agency for Healthcare in British Columbia


UBC pays an annual subscription for all UBC employees to access the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety websiteand the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety - MSDS plus CHEMINFO Search. Please note you MUST use a UBC e-mail address to sign on.

VCH Research Institute WHMIS Quiz

Now that you have read the WHMIS materials and/or watched the video, take the quiz - good luck!

Start the Quiz