Understanding WHMIS Safety Data Sheets in the Food Industry

Whether you're in the food industry or prioritize workplace safety, this guide offers valuable insights into WHMIS training and the significance of Safety Data Sheets

October 25, 2023

The food industry can be far more dangerous than you imagine. For example, workers in the sector frequently come into contact with hazardous materials such as cleaning agents, caustic soda, pesticides, aerosols, acids, high-proof alcohol, compressed gas and fire-extinguishing chemicals. 

The risks of mishandling these substances include skin irritation, eye irritation, burns, poisoning, long-term health complications or even death. However, these risks can be reduced significantly through appropriate education and training.

Understanding the ins and outs of the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is crucial for ensuring the safety of workers in the food industry.

One of the essential components of WHMIS is the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), which has replaced the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). In this blog post, we'll talk about the transition from MSDSs to SDSs and how this change impacts safety in the food industry. 

Whether you're a food industry professional or simply interested in workplace safety, this guide will provide valuable insights into WHMIS training and the importance of Safety Data Sheets.

What Is WHMIS?

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is Canada's national standard for communicating hazards related to dangerous materials within work environments.

Enacted in 1988 and revised in 2015 to align with the Global Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), WHMIS aims to safeguard the well-being of workers across all industries, including the food sector. 

Under WHMIS, information about hazardous materials must be conveyed in three essential ways:


Hazardous substances require standardized labels to offer vital safety information clearly and concisely. These labels typically feature symbols indicating the hazard type, preventive measures, and first aid instructions.

Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)

These are comprehensive documents containing in-depth data about the characteristics of hazardous materials. SDSs include information about: 

  • substance composition
  • safety precautions
  • potential health and safety hazards,
  • guidelines for secure storage, handling, and disposal. 

In kitchens, SDSs are typically stored in designated folders or binders near areas with chemical storage or digitally on workplace intranet systems.

Education and Training

WHMIS mandates training programs for workers to educate them on how to interpret labels and SDSs to work safely with hazardous materials. Practical applications may include the safe dilution of cleaning agents or the correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling corrosive substances.

The Shift from MSDSs to SDSs

Before exploring the specifics of WHMIS Safety Data Sheets, let's talk about the transition from Material Safety Data Sheets to Safety Data Sheets. This shift was more than just a change in acronyms; it represented a broader global effort to standardize hazard communication.

Under the old MSDS system, there were often variations in the format and content of safety data sheets. The varying structure and order made it challenging for workers to quickly and accurately understand the potential hazards of the chemicals they were handling. Moreover, the different formats could lead to confusion and errors in emergencies.

The introduction of Safety Data Sheets under WHMIS 2015 sought to address these issues. SDSs are part of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), an internationally recognized approach to hazard communication. This global standardization aims to enhance worker safety and improve the international trade of chemicals.

What's in a Name? Understanding the Difference

The transition from MSDS to SDS may seem like a simple name change, but it carries significant implications. Here's a breakdown of the key differences between the two:

1. Format and structure

  • MSDS: MSDSs often had varying formats, which made locating crucial information difficult.
  • SDS: SDSs follow a standardized format, ensuring that essential information is consistently presented. This format includes sections for product identification, hazard identification, composition, first aid measures, and more.

2. Terminology

  • MSDS: The old system used terms like "controlled products" and "hazardous materials."
  • SDS: The new system employs internationally recognized terms like "hazard classes" and "hazard categories."

3. Pictograms and symbols

  • MSDS: MSDSs didn't typically include standardized hazard pictograms.
  • SDS: SDSs include GHS hazard pictograms that convey information visually, aiding comprehension, especially for non-native English speakers.

4. Chemical classification

  • MSDS: The old system didn't use standardized chemical classification and labelling criteria.
  • SDS: SDSs incorporate GHS criteria, which provide a consistent and globally recognized approach to classifying chemicals.

5. Communication of hazards

  • MSDS: Information on hazardous materials was not as easily accessible or consistent.
  • SDS: SDSs provide more accessible, uniform, and comprehensive information on chemical hazards.

WHMIS Training: What You Need to Know

Now that you understand the shift from MSDSs to SDSs, let's discuss the role of WHMIS training in the food industry. WHMIS is a Canadian legal framework designed to ensure the safe use and handling of hazardous materials in the workplace. Every worker in the food industry must receive proper WHMIS training, as they often come into contact with various chemicals and substances.

Why is WHMIS training necessary?

Proper WHMIS training in the food industry offers numerous benefits:

  • Safety: Training equips workers with the knowledge to identify hazards and take necessary precautions, reducing the risk of accidents.
  • Compliance: Training ensures that your business adheres to WHMIS regulations, which is not just a legal requirement but also demonstrates your commitment to safety.
  • Efficiency: Well-trained employees can handle chemicals and hazardous materials more effectively, reducing the likelihood of product damage or contamination.
  • Employee confidence: When your employees feel confident in their ability to work safely, it can boost morale and productivity.

What Does WHMIS Training Cover?

WHMIS training covers several key areas:

  • WHMIS legislation: Understanding the legal framework and requirements of WHMIS.
  • Hazard classification: Learning how to classify hazardous products.
  • Labelling: Recognizing WHMIS labels and understanding the information they provide.
  • Safety Data Sheets: Gaining the ability to navigate and interpret SDSs.
  • Emergency procedures: Knowing what to do in case of a chemical spill, exposure, or other emergencies.

The Role of Safety Data Sheets in WHMIS Training

Now, let's dig deeper into Safety Data Sheets and their role in WHMIS training within the food industry.

What is a Safety Data Sheet?

A Safety Data Sheet, or SDS, is a standardized document that provides comprehensive information about a hazardous product. This information is vital for ensuring the safe handling, use, and disposal of chemicals. SDSs contain essential details, including:

  • The product's identity and manufacturer information.
  • Hazard identification, including GHS hazard classifications and categories.
  • Composition and ingredient information.
  • First aid measures.
  • Firefighting measures.
  • Accidental release measures.
  • Handling and storage guidelines.
  • Exposure controls and personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Physical and chemical properties.
  • Stability and reactivity.
  • Toxicological information.
  • Ecological information.
  • Disposal considerations.
  • Transport information.
  • Regulatory information.

How do SDSs relate to WHMIS training?

In WHMIS training, understanding and effectively using Safety Data Sheets is crucial. Here's why:

  • Hazard communication: SDSs provide a standardized and easily understandable way to communicate the hazards associated with a chemical product. This information is essential for worker safety and compliance with WHMIS regulations.
  • Emergency response: In an accident or chemical spill, workers trained to read and interpret SDSs can take appropriate and immediate action, mitigating potential harm.
  • Risk assessment: Workers can use the SDS to evaluate the risks associated with specific chemicals and determine the necessary precautions for preventing accidents and protecting employees' health.

How to navigate an SDS

Reading an SDS can be daunting, especially for those new to WHMIS training. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you navigate an SDS effectively:

  • Product identification: This section provides essential contact information for identifying the product and its manufacturer. 
  • Hazard identification: Look for GHS hazard classifications and categories, which communicate the product's potential dangers.
  • Composition and Ingredient Information: Understand the chemical components of the product. This is vital for identifying potential allergens or hazardous materials.
  • First Aid Measures: Familiarize yourself with the recommended first aid procedures in case of exposure or accidents.
  • Firefighting Measures: Learn about fire hazards associated with the product and appropriate firefighting measures.
  • Accidental Release Measures: In case of a spill or leak, this section provides guidance on containment and cleanup.
  • Handling and Storage Guidelines: Understand how to safely handle and store the product, including any temperature or ventilation requirements.
  • Exposure Controls and PPE: Learn about recommended exposure limits and the personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary for safe handling.
  • Physical and Chemical Properties: This section provides information about the product's appearance, odour, and other physical characteristics.
  • Stability and Reactivity: Understand how the product behaves under different conditions and its potential reactivity with other substances.
  • Toxicological Information: Learn about the product's health effects, including symptoms of exposure and long-term health risks.
  • Ecological Information: Discover how the product may impact the environment and any precautions necessary for disposal.
  • Disposal Considerations: Understand how to dispose of the product safely, considering environmental regulations.
  • Transport Information: If the product needs to be transported, this section provides guidelines for safe transportation.
  • Regulatory Information: Learn about any specific regulations or restrictions associated with the product.

Remember that an SDS is valuable for ensuring workplace safety. Thorough WHMIS training equips employees to use it effectively.

Compliance and Beyond

In the food industry, safety is paramount. Compliance with WHMIS regulations, including the proper use of Safety Data Sheets, is not just a legal requirement but also a commitment to the well-being of your workforce. The transition from MSDSs to SDSs represents a significant step toward global harmonization of hazard communication, making it easier for workers to understand and manage risks associated with hazardous materials.

As we've discussed, WHMIS training is critical to ensuring workplace safety in the food industry. It empowers employees to recognize and respond to hazards effectively, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries. Additionally, a well-trained workforce quickly becomes a more efficient and confident team.

However, WHMIS training goes beyond compliance. It fosters a culture of safety within your organization, demonstrating your commitment to the health and well-being of your employees. In a globalized world, where information flows freely, standardized hazard communication is more important than ever.

The transition from MSDSs to SDSs, and the inclusion of SDSs in WHMIS training, are positive steps for the food industry. It enhances safety, streamlines communication, and ensures everyone involved can work confidently and securely with hazardous materials. Knowledge is power, and in the food industry, that knowledge starts with comprehensive training.

Stay Safe, Stay Informed

In the ever-evolving food industry landscape, keeping up with safety standards and regulations is vital. As we've seen, the shift from MSDSs to SDSs under WHMIS 2015 is a step in the right direction, making safety information more accessible and standardized. However, staying up to date with the latest developments in the industry is essential to ensure that your workplace remains as safe as possible.

The Canadian Institute of Food Safety (CIFS) is dedicated to providing you with the knowledge and training necessary to stay informed and compliant. Whether it’s HACCP Food Safety Programs, Food Handler Certification, Food Allergen Training or other resources, we're here to support you. Our goal is to empower individuals and organizations in the food industry to maintain the highest safety standards.

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If you have any questions or want to know more about our training programs, don't hesitate to get in touch. Your safety is our priority, and we're here to help you navigate the ever-changing landscape of food safety and workplace hazard management.

Stay safe, stay informed, and let's work together to create a safer food industry for everyone.