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WHMIS and the supplier

The duties of a supplier of hazardous products intended for use, handling or storage in a workplace are set out in the federal Hazardous Products Act (HPA) and the Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR). Employers who buy hazardous products should understand the obligations of their suppliers to provide them with accurate health and safety information. More importantly, employers who either produce or import a hazardous product for use in their own workplaces assume the responsibilities of a supplier in respect of those products, with a few minor exceptions as explained in WHMIS and the employer.

General duties

A supplier is a person who, in the course of business, sells or imports a hazardous product. Suppliers have three main duties:

  1. To determine which of their products intended for use, handling or storage in a workplace are hazardous products as defined in the HPA. This is the classification step.
  2. To label hazardous products as a condition of sale or importation.
  3. To provide safety data sheets for hazardous products as a condition of sale or importation.

This part of the guide gives an overview of these duties. Detailed technical guidance for suppliers is available from Health Canada:

Health Canada
Address locator 0900C2
Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9

Classification

WHMIS 2015 introduces a new system for classifying hazardous products. There are at least three possible levels of classification for an individual product.

There are two broad hazard groups: physical hazards and health hazards. Products in the physical hazards group are classified based on characteristics such as flammability or reactivity. Health hazards are grouped based on their ability to cause a health effect, such as cancer or skin irritation. Both groups are divided into classes of materials with similar properties. There are 19 distinct classes in the physical hazards group and 12 classes in the health hazards group.

Classes in the Physical Hazards Group are:

  1. Flammable gases
  2. Flammable aerosols
  3. Oxidizing gases
  4. Gases under pressure
  5. Flammable liquids
  6. Flammable solids
  7. Self-reactive substances and mixtures
  8. Pyrophoric liquids
  9. Pyrophoric solids
  10. Self-heating substances and mixtures
  11. Substances and mixtures which, in contact with water, emit flammable gases
  12. Oxidizing liquids
  13. Oxidizing solids
  14. Organic peroxides
  15. Corrosive to metals
  16. Combustible dustsfootnote 1
  17. Simple asphyxiantsfootnote 2
  18. Pyrophoric gasesfootnote 3
  19. Physical hazards not otherwise classifiedfootnote 4

Classes in the Health Hazard Group are:

  1. Acute toxicity
  2. Skin corrosion/irritation
  3. Serious eye damage/eye irritation
  4. Respiratory or skin sensitization
  5. Germ cell mutagenicity
  6. Carcinogenicity
  7. Reproductive toxicity
  8. Specific target organ toxicity — single exposure
  9. Specific target organ toxicity — repeated exposure
  10. Aspiration hazard
  11. Biohazardous infectious materialsfootnote 5
  12. Health hazards not otherwise classifiedfootnote 6

Most hazard classes are further subdivided into categories and subcategories based on the severity of the hazard. Most categories are identified by a number and subcategories by a number and letter. The lower the category number, the more severe the hazard, for example, a product classified as a Flammable Liquid-Category 1 is more hazardous than a Flammable Liquid-Category 2.

Determining if a product is a hazardous product

To determine if a particular product intended for use in the workplace is a hazardous product, a supplier should:

  • identify the physical and toxicological properties of the product;
  • consult Parts 2, 7 and 8 of the Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR), which set out the definitions and classification criteria relevant to each WHMIS hazard class, category and sub-category;
  • compare the properties of the product to the criteria in the HPR.

A product is a hazardous product as defined in the HPA if it meets the criteria to be classified in at least one category or subcategory of any of the physical or health hazard classes listed above. Product classification is a complex process. Products should be evaluated in accordance with established scientific principles and using all available hazard data. Both suppliers and employers may need help from external experts.

The supplier label

The supplier label is the worker’s first warning about the hazards of a product and how to use it safely. A supplier must put the following information on the label of a hazardous product (see section 3, of the Hazardous Products Regulations).

Product identifier

Can be any one of the brand name, chemical name, common name, generic name or trade name. The product identifier displayed on the label of a hazardous product must be identical to the one on the hazardous product’s safety data sheet.

  • An employer who considers the product identifier to be confidential business information may file a claim under the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act for exemption from disclosure (see Confidential business information). If the employer’s claim is granted, the supplier would disclose a code name or number on the label in place of the product identifier (subsection 5.7(9), HPR).
Initial supplier identifier

The name, address and telephone number of either the Canadian manufacturer or importer of the hazardous product who operates in Canada. The initial supplier identifier displayed on the label of a hazardous product must be identical to the one on the safety data sheet.

  • If an employer imports a hazardous product directly from a foreign supplier for use in its own workplace, the employer may retain the name, address and telephone number of the foreign supplier on the label instead of providing its own contact information (subsection 5.9(2), HPR).
  • An employer who considers the supplier identifier to be confidential business information may file a claim under the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act for exemption from disclosure (see Confidential business information). If the employer’s claim is granted, the supplier would not disclose its contact information on the label (subsection 5.7(10), HPR).
  • The initial supplier identifier information may be replaced by a subsequent supplier information on both the label and the safety data sheet (section 5.8, HPR).
Pictogram(s)
Categories and subcategories of a hazard class have corresponding pictograms to convey the type of hazard (for example, a skull and crossbones to indicate acute toxicity). In general, the supplier label must include a pictogram for each WHMIS class/category that the hazardous product falls into (note that some hazard classes, such as combustible dust and simple asphyxiants, do not have pictograms). See the WHMIS 2015 pictograms.
Signal word
Either Danger or Warning is used to emphasize a hazard and to indicate its severity. Danger is used for more severe hazards.
Hazard statement(s)
A brief, standardized phrase to describe the nature of the hazard, for example, Causes Skin Irritation or Fatal if Swallowed.
Precautionary statement(s)
Recommended measures to minimize adverse effects from exposure to a hazardous product or resulting from improper storage or handling, for example, Wear Protective Gloves or Keep Away From Heat.

For some hazardous products, depending upon the classification, supplemental information is required on the supplier label. For example, the label for a product with an ingredient of unknown toxicity may require a statement of the percentage of that ingredient in the product. Information that is not required on a label may be added to it to provide further detail as long as it does not contradict or cast doubt on the required information. See an example of a supplier label that complies with WHMIS 2015.

Updating the supplier label

The HPR require a supplier to update labels within 180 days of becoming aware of significant new data about a hazardous product (subsection 5.12(4), HPR). Significant new data means information about a product that would:

  • change its classification in a category or subcategory of a hazard class,
  • result in its classification in another class, or
  • change the ways to handle it safely.

If a hazardous product is sold during the 180-day grace period, without an updated supplier label, the supplier must provide the buyer (i.e. the employer) with the significant new data in writing and the date on which the data became available. Suppliers are not required to inform past buyers of a hazardous product that significant new data is available.

Design requirements of the supplier label

The design requirements of the supplier label have been modified under WHMIS 2015 and relate primarily to language, layout, and colour. A border is no longer required.

Language
The supplier label must be in English and French. The supplier can make two separate labels, one for each language, or one bilingual label (section 6.2, HPR).
Layout
The pictogram, signal word and hazard statements must be grouped together. Otherwise, the required information can be located anywhere on the label. While there is no minimum or maximum size specified for the supplier label, there is a general requirement that the label be easily legible (section 3.4, HPR).
Colour
Any pictogram required to be provided on a label must reproduce the colour depicted in column 3 of Schedule 3 of the HPR.

Labelling exceptions

Part 5 of the HPR sets out a number of exceptions to the general requirements for either providing a supplier label, or for providing certain information on a supplier label. Some key examples are listed below. Employers receiving these types of containers or products may wish to be familiar with the exceptions. Detailed information is available from Health Canada.

  • Outer containers in multi-container shipment (section 5.2, HPR)
  • Outer containers with at least two hazardous products packaged together (section 5.3, HPR)
  • Small capacity containers – 100 ml or less; and 3 ml or less (section 5.4, HPR)
  • Bulk shipments and unpackaged hazardous products (section 5.5, HPR)
  • Laboratory samples (section 5, HPR)
  • Mixture of radioactive nuclides and non-radioactive carriers (section 5.1, HPR).

The supplier safety data sheet

A safety data sheet (SDS) is a technical document that summarizes health and safety information available about a hazardous product. It supplements the warning information on a label. A supplier’s SDS is an important resource for the workplace but it is not intended to provide all of the information needed for the safe use of a product. The way a hazardous product is used, handled or stored, and consequently the hazard to the worker, can vary from plant to plant. The supplier is not expected to anticipate every required protective measure for every workplace to which a product is sold. The employer, through the worker education program, is expected to tailor the supplier’s information to the conditions in the employer’s workplace.

General information requirements for supplier SDS

A supplier SDS must have at least 16 sections, presented in a standardized format. Sections must appear with the following headings and corresponding numbers, and must be in the order shown below.

  1. Identification
  2. Hazard identification
  3. Composition/Information on ingredients
  4. First-aid measures
  5. Fire-fighting measures
  6. Accidental release measures
  7. Handling and storage
  8. Exposure controls/Personal protection
  9. Physical and chemical properties
  10. Stability and reactivity
  11. Toxicological information
  12. Ecological information
  13. Disposal considerations
  14. Transport information
  15. Regulatory information
  16. Other information

See Schedule 1, of the HPR for the specific information required in each of the 16 sections. For sections 12-15, the headings must be shown on the SDS but the supplier can choose whether or not to provide any information (subsection 4(2), HPR). Where required information is either not available (i.e. the information cannot be located or does not exist) or not applicable (i.e. the information is not relevant, such as the odour threshold for an odourless product), the supplier must clearly indicate this on the SDS (subclause 4(1)(b)(i), HPR).

All required information must be provided in both English and French. The supplier may provide either a single bilingual SDS, or they may provide a single document with two unilingual parts.

Special information requirements for supplier SDS

In some cases, a supplier’s SDS must include specific information in addition to the 16 sections described above. Examples include:

Biohazardous Infectious Material
Where a hazardous product is classified as a Biohazardous Infectious Material, the HPR requires additional information to be included on the supplier SDS. See subsection 4(3) and Schedule 2 of the HPR for details.
Combining Hazardous Products

Additional information must be added to the SDS when the instructions for using a hazardous product require it to be combined with one or more materials, and doing so creates a new material that presents either new or more severe hazards than already identified on the SDS. For each new material, the supplier must provide the following, which can appear anywhere on the SDS (section 4.1, HPR):

  1. The nature of the new or more severe hazard; and
  2. The information normally required for SDS under sections 4 – 11 (see Schedule 1, of the HPR).

Use of generic SDSs

A generic SDS may be used for a group of hazardous products with the same hazard classification and similar chemical composition. For example, a generic SDS can be used for a series of paints where the only difference between products is the pigment used. A generic SDS must include the names of all hazardous products to which it applies. For any one product, if the concentration or concentration range of an ingredient, or other hazard information differs from that of other products in the group, these differences must be disclosed on the SDS (see Health Canada, Technical Guidance on the Requirements of the Hazardous Products Act and the Hazardous Products Regulations).

Updating the SDS

A supplier must ensure that the SDS for a hazardous product is accurate, current and meets requirements in the HPR every time the product is sold. If a supplier becomes aware of significant new data about a hazardous product, the supplier must update the SDS within 90 days (subsection 5.12(3), HPR). Significant new data means information about a product that would:

  • change its classification in a category or subcategory of a hazard class,
  • result in its classification in another class, or
  • change the ways to handle it safely.

If a hazardous product is sold during the 90-day grace period, without an updated supplier SDS, the supplier must provide the buyer (i.e. the employer) with the significant new data in writing and the date on which the data became available. Suppliers are not required to inform past buyers of a hazardous product that significant new data is available.

Exemptions from the federal WHMIS legislation

The federal WHMIS legislation does not apply to the products listed below. No supplier label or SDS is required on the sale or importation of any (section 12 and Schedule 1, of the HPA):

  • Nuclear substance within the meaning of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, that is radioactive;
  • Hazardous waste, being a hazardous product that is sold for recycling or recovery or is intended for disposal;
  • Tobacco or a tobacco product as defined in the Tobacco Act;
  • Pest control products as defined in the Pest Control Products Act;
  • Explosives as defined in the Explosives Act;
  • Cosmetics, drugs, devices or food as defined in the Food and Drugs Act;
  • Consumer products as defined in the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act;
  • Any wood or product made of wood; or
  • Manufactured article.

Note: Some requirements in Ontario’s WHMIS Regulation apply to some of the above products. These are explained in WHMIS and the employer.

What is a manufactured article?

A manufactured article is any article that meets all of these conditions (section 2, HPR):

  1. It is formed to a specific shape or design during manufacture;
  2. Its intended use depends, either fully or partly, on that specific shape or design;
  3. Under normal conditions of use, it will not release or cause an individual to be exposed to a hazardous product; and
  4. When being installed, it will not release or cause an individual to be exposed to a hazardous product (if installation is necessary in order to use the article as intended).
    Note: under WHMIS 1988, the definition of manufactured article did not include exposure to a hazardous product during the installation process.

The following examples are given to further illustrate the exemption for manufactured articles.

  • Welding rods are not manufactured articles because — although formed to a specific design — during use they release hazardous products previously contained in the rods.
  • Piping, whether made of mild, galvanized or stainless steel, is a manufactured article because it does not release hazardous products during its intended use of conveying fluids from one point to another.
  • Sheets of friction materials that contain asbestos and which are manufactured with the intent of later being cut or shaped to form specific friction products are not manufactured articles.
  • A cylinder produced for the purposes of containing acetylene is a manufactured article. Once filled with acetylene, however, the cylinder is a container for a hazardous product and, when sold as such, must be provided with a label and safety data sheet.
  • A refrigerator is a manufactured article made up of various components including a system for containing compressed gases. Unlike the compressed gas cylinder, the refrigerator is not considered to be a container of a hazardous product.

Footnotes

  • footnote[1] Back to paragraph These hazard classes are part of WHMIS 2015 but are not part of the GHS.
  • footnote[2] Back to paragraph These hazard classes are part of WHMIS 2015 but are not part of the GHS.
  • footnote[3] Back to paragraph These hazard classes are part of WHMIS 2015 but are not part of the GHS.
  • footnote[4] Back to paragraph These hazard classes are part of WHMIS 2015 but are not part of the GHS.
  • footnote[5] Back to paragraph These hazard classes are part of WHMIS 2015 but are not part of the GHS.
  • footnote[6] Back to paragraph These hazard classes are part of WHMIS 2015 but are not part of the GHS.
Updated: June 15, 2022
Published: July 06, 2017