Chemicals in the Workplace : NS Labour and Advanced Education, Occupational Health and Safety

What is WHMIS?

WHMIS stands for Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System. WHMIS is a system of supplying information on chemicals used in the workplace. Three things are used to deliver this information: labels, material safety data sheets (MSDS), and worker education.

What materials are covered by WHMIS?

"Controlled product" is the legal term used in the WHMIS laws to refer to chemicals. Categories of controlled products include compressed gases, flammable and combustible material, oxidizing material, poisonous and infectious material, corrosive material, and dangerously reactive material.

What are my responsibilities as an employer?

If chemicals are used, stored or handled in your workplace, there are four things you must do:

  • Prepare a list of all the chemicals at the workplace. The list must include the common name and trade name of the chemical, its chemical composition and the name and address of the supplier and manufacturer. This list must be made available to the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee or Health and Safety Representative at the workplace.
  • Make sure that Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are available to workers who may come into contact with chemicals, unless an exemption applies. MSDS's provide important information about chemicals, such as ingredients, fire and explosion data, preventive measures for handling the product and first aid information. It is the employer's responsibility to get an up-to-date MSDS from the supplier of the chemical. If your business produces the chemical instead of getting it from a supplier, you must prepare an MSDS for the product. Consult the regulations or contact the Occupational Health and Safety Division of the Department of Labour for a list of exemptions.
  • Make sure that chemicals in the workplace are properly labelled. Suppliers are required to provide detailed labels with controlled products, but it is the employer's responsibility to ensure that such labels are in place when the chemical is received and that the label is not removed, destroyed or changed. If the supplier label is accidentally damaged or if the chemical is produced on site, the employer must provide a label which identifies the product, tells how to handle it safely, and indicates the availability of a MSDS for the chemical.
  • Provide training for workers who are required to work with or near chemicals. The training program must deliver the information that the worker needs to work safely with a chemical, such as proper procedures for working with the chemical, any protective equipment required, how to read labels and MSDSs, and what to do in an emergency.

How can I learn more?

To find out more about WHMIS and the safe handling of chemicals in the workplace, contact:

Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education
Occupational Health & Safety Division
5151 Terminal Road, 6th Floor
PO Box 697
Halifax, Nova Scotia
B3J 2T8

Phone: (902)424-5400 or 1-800-9LABOUR (in N.S.)
Fax: (902)424-5640
Secure Enquiry Form

Single copies of related publications are available from the Occupational Health and Safety Division of the Department of Labour at no charge. Some publications that may be helpful are:

  • Occupational Health and Safety Act
  • Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System Regulations
  • Interpretation Guide for N.S. WHMIS Regulations
  • A Guide to WHMIS: The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System