Navigating WHMIS 2015: A Guide for Canadian Food Businesses

Learn about labelling, SDSs, non-compliance, training and how to enhance workplace safety

bartender cleaning bar
November 30, 2023

Understanding the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is not just a compliance requirement; it's a fundamental aspect of ensuring the safety of Canadian workplaces. 

In order to obtain a WHMIS Certificate in Canada, food industry workers must undergo proper training. WHMIS Certification ensures that employees know how to handle hazardous materials safely in accordance with WHMIS legislation.

In this blog, we will take a closer look at the key components of WHMIS legislation, its evolution, and the obligations it places on businesses.

What Is the Purpose of WHMIS?

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is Canada's official guide for communicating the dangers associated with hazardous substances. WHMIS standardizes the effective use of labelling, Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and training programs to keep employees informed about hazardous materials in the workplace.

To guarantee the well-being of employees and consumers, federal and provincial legislation mandates the implementation of WHMIS. The system is applicable across various industries and workplaces, encompassing environments such as commercial kitchens and food production facilities, where chemicals and hazardous materials are often utilized.

Evolution of WHMIS Legislation in Canada

WHMIS legislation was first introduced in 1988 as a response to the need for a standardized approach to communicating information about hazardous materials in the workplace. 

However, recognizing the need for alignment with global standards, Canada updated WHMIS in 2015 to harmonize with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). Three key changes were made:

1. Classification Criteria

Adopted internationally recognized criteria for classifying hazardous chemicals.

2. Labelling Requirements

Aligned with GHS labelling standards, including standardized pictograms and signal words.

3. Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)

Standardized the format for SDSs to enhance accessibility and understanding.

Enforcement of WHMIS Legislation in Canada

WHMIS is enforced through federal and provincial legislation, with specific agencies responsible for monitoring adherence. The Labour Branch of Human Resources Development Canada enforces WHMIS legislation in federal workplaces, while provincial occupational health and safety agencies handle enforcement for non-federal workplaces.

Federal Enforcement

  • Labour Program: Enforces WHMIS in federal workplaces.

  • Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations: Governs WHMIS requirements for federally regulated workplaces.

Provincial Enforcement

  • Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) agencies: Enforce WHMIS legislation in provincially regulated workplaces.

  • Variations in legislation: While the core principles are consistent, specific regulations may vary between provinces and territories.

Core Components of WHMIS Legislation

1. Labelling Requirements

Hazards must be communicated clearly. Key labelling information includes:

  • Product identifier: Brand name, chemical name, common name, generic name, or trade name.

  • Pictograms: Standardized symbols indicating specific hazards.

  • Signal word: Indicating the severity of the hazard.

  • Initial supplier identifier: Name, address, and telephone number of the Canadian manufacturer or importer.

  • Workplace labels: Employers may create workplace labels when hazardous products are decanted.

2. Education and Training

WHMIS training is a legal requirement for all employees who come into contact with hazardous materials or controlled products in the workplace. To obtain a WHMIS Certificate in Canada, employees must participate in a WHMIS course that covers the following topics:

  • Legal framework: Understanding the legal obligations and requirements of WHMIS legislation.

  • Hazard classification: Identifying and classifying hazardous items based on defined criteria.

  • Labelling: Recognizing WHMIS labels and interpreting the information they convey.

  • Safety Data Sheets: Navigating and understanding SDSs for comprehensive product information.

  • Emergency procedures: Knowing how to respond in case of a chemical spill, exposure, or other emergencies.

3. Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)

SDSs must be readily accessible to all employees. They contain key information regarding the following:

  • Composition: Chemical composition of hazardous substances.
  • Health and safety implications: Potential impact of hazards in the context of employee and consumer health.
  • Required safety precautions: Instructions for preventing potential harm.
  • Storage, handling and disposal procedures: Essential guidelines for the safe management of hazardous materials.
  • Record keeping: Ways to maintain accurate records regarding the identity and quantity of hazardous products.

What Happens if You Don’t Comply With WHMIS Legislation?

Legal Consequences

Understanding the legal consequences of breaching WHMIS regulations is crucial for businesses in the food industry. Non-compliance can lead to serious ramifications, including financial penalties and forced business closures.

Government authorities can impose fines and penalties on businesses that fail to comply with WHMIS regulations. These fines can vary in amount but are often substantial. 

  • Federal regulations: Fines of up to $1 million (CAD) and imprisonment for up to two years.
  • Provincial regulations: Comparable penalties and prison terms, with business suspensions and closures also a possibility.

Your business could also face other legal liabilities if accidents or injuries occur as a result of WHMIS legislation breaches. For example, a lawsuit may be brought against a restaurant if a customer suffers an illness as a result of chemical contamination.

What Causes WHMIS Violations?

There are several things that can lead to a breach of WHMIS legislation, but here are some of the most common causes:

1. Poor Communication of Hazards

Employees need access to training and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) in order to set up clear guidelines for managing dangerous materials.

2. Inadequate Labelling

Hazardous materials should be clearly labelled with the relevant WHMIS symbols and information.

3. Failure to Maintain Accurate Records

It’s crucial to maintain thorough records of WHMIS training, SDSs, and any incidents or accidents involving hazardous materials. Food businesses are responsible for maintaining accurate records that verify the identity and quantity of hazardous products present in the workplace.

4. Inadequate Training

Without the required knowledge or skills, employees are more likely to handle hazardous materials incorrectly.

WHMIS training provides kitchen staff with the knowledge and expertise required to handle, store, and dispose of hazardous substances correctly. It also educates participants about the emergency procedures that can be used in the event of an incident involving a hazardous item.

Taking a Proactive Approach to WHMIS Compliance

To avoid WHMIS violations and their legal consequences, businesses are encouraged to foster a culture of safety in the workplace. Here are five ways this can be done:

1. Lead by Example

As a business owner or manager, you can set the tone by establishing clear safety standards through your own actions. 

2. Encourage Employees to Get Involved

Get the whole team involved in food safety and encourage them to communicate any concerns they may have regarding hazards in the workplace.

3. Host Regular Safety Meetings

Bring colleagues together to discuss safety procedures relating to WHMIS compliance, tailoring these to address any questions or concerns employees may have.

4. Acknowledge the Efforts of Employees

Reward and recognition schemes are an effective way of incentivizing employees to maintain high standards of food safety, including hazard management.

5. Offer Regular Training

Safety is a continuous process, so regular WHMIS training should be utilized to stay up-to-date with the latest information concerning hazardous materials.

A Real-World Example of WHMIS Compliance

To highlight the importance of WHMIS compliance, let's examine a case study featuring a food business that effectively addressed WHMIS violations and fostered a culture of safety.

Case Study: ‘Good Bites’ Catering


Good Bites is a well-established catering business known for delivering delicious meals to various events in the local area. Despite their culinary expertise, they encountered WHMIS compliance issues.

1. Inadequate labelling: Good Bites struggled with unclear labels on certain cleaning and sanitizing products, leading to confusion among kitchen staff.

2. Poor communication: There was a lack of communication about hazardous materials, which resulted in some employees not fully understanding the risks.

3. Training gaps: Some employees had not received comprehensive WHMIS training, leaving them unprepared to handle hazardous materials.


Good Bites implemented strategic solutions to address these challenges.

1. Clear labelling system: The company introduced a robust labelling system for all cleaning and sanitizing products, ensuring that kitchen staff could easily identify potential hazards and follow proper usage instructions.

2. Enhanced communication: Regular safety meetings and communication channels were established to improve awareness about hazardous materials, ensuring that all kitchen staff members were well-informed.

3. Comprehensive training program: All kitchen staff are now required to participate in an online WHMIS certification program, equipping them with the necessary knowledge and skills to handle food preparation materials safely.


These proactive measures led to positive outcomes for Good Bites Catering.

  • Legal compliance: Good Bites ensured compliance with WHMIS regulations, mitigating the risk of fines and legal consequences.
  • Employee safety: Incidents related to the mishandling of cleaning and food preparation materials significantly decreased, contributing to a safer working environment.
  • Reputation: The company’s commitment to safety and high-quality food preparation practices enhanced its reputation, attracting more clients for their events.
  • Operational efficiency: Day-to-day operations were improved with enhanced training and communication, promoting a more streamlined workflow.

This case study illustrates the transformative impact of addressing WHMIS compliance challenges in a food business, emphasizing the crucial role of safety in the catering industry.

The Changing Landscape of WHMIS Compliance

As food businesses adapt to changing regulations and consumer expectations, two key trends are likely to shape the future of WHMIS compliance:

1. Integration of Technology

Online WHMIS certification is on the rise, offering accessible, customizable, and cost-effective WHMIS training in Canada and beyond.

2. Sustainability

Food businesses are incorporating eco-friendly practices into WHMIS compliance. Not only does this reduce the environmental impact of hazardous materials, but it also helps enhance a business’s reputation within the community.

Take the Next Step to WHMIS Certification

In the fast-paced world of food businesses, prioritizing safety is not just a legal obligation; it's a commitment to the well-being of employees and customers. Online certification provides a convenient and effective way to ensure compliance with WHMIS legislation in Canada.

Don't wait until violations occur. Provide your employees with access to WHMIS training, maintain accurate records, and stay up-to-date with the latest information regarding hazardous materials. Your commitment to safety not only keeps your business running smoothly but contributes to a safer and healthier food industry.

Sign up to receive notifications about our upcoming WHMIS training programs, and our team will reach out to you with more information as soon as it's available.

The Canadian Institute of Food Safety (CIFS) is a reliable partner for anyone looking to optimize food and chemical safety in their establishment. Get in touch today and embark on your journey to a safer workplace with CIFS.