WHMIS stands for Workplace Hazardous Material Information System. Canada created it to fulfill the "right to know" section of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. If an employer asks you to work with dangerous chemicals, you have a right to know what the dangers are and how to work with them safely.
The main objectives of WHMIS are hazard identification and product classification. WHMIS consists of three main components:

  • Labeling
  • Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
  • Training (core training and job specific training)

    All chemicals in containers must be labeled. If you deal with hazardous chemicals, the label must include warnings and protective measures. Transferring chemicals from one container into another, such as a flask or a beaker, requires labeling. Every single container must state which chemical it contains. The label should not be damaged and the name must not be cryptic (e.g. do not label as solution A or ingredient #2). The labels found on commercial labels include warnings, what to wear and use to protect yourself and what to do in case of an emergency. Most labels have the WHMIS pictograms that warn you at a glance of the dangers involved.

WHMIS Pictograms

On chemical container labels, you will find little symbols inside a circle. These are called pictograms and each represent a specific danger.

The pictogram represents... 
The pictogram means...
And you should do this :

Class A
Compressed Gas

  • It is a gas kept under pressure.
  • Heat may cause the container to explode.
  • A drop or impact may cause the container to explode.
  • Handle with care, do not drop.
  • Keep away from heat or potential sources of ignition.
  • Store in a designated area. 

Class B
Flammable and Combustible Material 
  • The material is a potential fire hazard.
  • It may burn at relatively low temperature.
  • Sparks, flame or friction could ignite it.
  • May burst into flame spontaneously in air or release a flammable gas on contact with water.
  • Keep the material away from heat sources and other combustible materials.
  • Never smoke when working with or near the material.
  • Store in a cool, fire-proof area.

Class C
Oxidizing Material
  • The material is a fire or explosion risk near flammable or combustible material.
  • May burn skin or eyes in contact. 
  • Keep the material away from combustible materials and store in designated areas.
  • Keep the material away from sources of ignition.
  • Never smoke when working near the material.
  • Wear the proper protective equipment, including eye, face and hand protection and protective clothing.

Class D, Division 1
Poisonous and Infectious Material:
Immediate and serious toxic effects
  • The material is a potentially fatal poisonous substance.
  • It may be fatal or cause permanent damage if it is inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through skin.
  • May burn skin or eyes on contact.
  • Handle the material with extreme caution.
  • Avoid contact with the skin or eyes, use proper protective clothing.
  • Avoid inhaling by working in well- ventilated areas and/or wearing respiratory equipment.
  • Wash and shower thoroughly after using.
  • Store in designated areas only. 

Class D, Division 2
Poisonous and Infectious Material: other toxic effects
  • The material is poisonous but not immediately dangerous to health.
  • It may cause death or permanent damage as a result of repeated exposure over time.
  • May be a skin irritant.
  • May be a sensitizer causing allergic reaction.
  • May cause cancer.
  • May cause birth defects or sterility. 
  • Avoid skin and eye contact by wearing all protective equipment necessary including eye, face and hand protection and protective clothing.
  • Avoid inhaling by working in well- ventilated area and/or using respiratory equipment.
  • Store in designated areas.

Class D, Division 3
Poisonous and Infectious Material: Biohazardous Infectious Material
  • May cause a serious disease resulting in illness or death.
  • Take every measure to avoid contamination.
  • Handle the material only when fully protected by the proper, designated equipment.
  • Handle the material in designated places only.

Class E
Corrosive Material
  • Causes severe eye and skin irritation upon contact.
  • Causes severe tissue damage with prolonged contact.
  • May be harmful if inhaled.
  • Keep containers tightly closed.
  • Avoid skin and eye contact by wearing all necessary protective equipment, including eye, face and hand protection and protective clothing.
  • Avoid inhaling by using in well- ventilated areas only and/or wearing the proper respiratory equipment.

Class F
Dangerously Reactive Material
  • The material is very unstable.
    May react with water to release a toxic or flammable gas.
  • May explode as a result of shock, friction or increase in temperature.
  • May explode if heated when in a closed container.
  • Undergoes vigorous polymerization.
  • Keep material away from heat.
  • Open containers carefully; do not drop.
  • Store the material in a designated cool, flame-proof area. 


MSDS stands for Material Safety Data Sheet. This document contains a great amount of information about a specific product such as: product composition and information on ingredients, physical & chemical properties, hazards identification, protective & first-aid measures, handling & storage, disposal considerations etc…The information provided might vary according to the supplier.

Make sure that you read the MSDS sheet BEFORE you handle the chemical. This can prevent accidents and, if they do happen, you will be prepared to handle the situation.
Ensure that all MSDS collections in each lab are complete and up to date for all chemicals, including non-controlled products.


The MyLab Chemical Inventory System was implemented at McGill in 2011. The chemical inventory of all members of the Biology Department has since been uploaded into the system.

The system allows researchers and their laboratory personnel to view & update their chemical inventory (which is required). It also allows them to access electronic MSDS documents. Computer access to the system should be made available within each lab.

If a chemical has an electronic MSDS in MyLab, there is no need to have paper MSDS documents. If there is no MSDS linked for a particular chemical, then a paper copy of the MSDS is required.

Please ask the principal investigator/lab manager how to access the electronic system in your lab and what kind of account has been set up for you.

For additional information on the MyLab system go to: http://www.mcgill.ca/ehs/mylab