IN THIS ARTICLE
- Workplace Labels
- Exception for Workplace Labels
- Signal Words
- Hazard and Precautionary Statements
- Example of the Label Elements
- Another Example
- Reduced label information is allowed in some cases
- As a worker, what do you have to do?
Why are labels important?
Labels are important because they are the first things workers see that alert them that a product is potentially hazardous. They tell you:
- The major hazards of the product
- Basic precautions (safety steps) that you should take
In Canada, WHMIS legislation requires that products used in the workplace that meet the criteria to be classified as hazardous products must be labeled and have an SDS.
WHMIS 2015 requires specific information — called label elements — on the supplier labels.
The label elements include:
- A signal word
- A pictogram
- Hazard statements
- Precautionary statements
Supplier labels must be provided in both English and French – either as one bilingual label or as two labels (one in English and French).
Listing the hazardous ingredients on a label is not required by WHMIS. However, some suppliers may choose to list the ingredients. This additional information is acceptable under WHMIS.
Two Types of WHMIS Labels
There are two main types of WHMIS labels:
- Supplier labels
- Workplace labels
Suppliers of hazardous products are required to apply a label that meets the requirements of the Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR). If the hazardous product is always used in the container with the supplier label, no other label is required.
A workplace label is required when:
- A hazardous product is produced (made) at the workplace and used in that workplace
- A hazardous product is decanted (e.g., transferred or poured) into another container
- A supplier label becomes lost or illegible (unreadable)
Requirements for workplace labels are regulated by your local provincial or territorial jurisdiction. Check with your jurisdiction for more information.
Exception for Workplace Labels
There are two situations when a workplace label is not necessary. When a hazardous product is:
- Poured into a container, and it is going to be used immediately, or
- "Under the control of the person who decanted it." For example, when the person who poured the product into another container will be the only person who will use it, and the product will be used during one shift, a full workplace label may not be required. However, the container must still be identified with the product identifier (name).
If the product is not used right away or if more than one person will be in control of the product, a full workplace label is required. Note that a company may have specific rules about labeling containers that are above or exceed the WHMIS requirements.
Most supplier labels will show a signal word that indicates the severity of the hazard if assigned.
There are two signal words: Danger and Warning.
- Danger is used for the more severe hazards
- Warning is used for the less severe hazards
- Only one signal word will appear on the label
- Danger will be used if both Danger and Warning are assigned
- Some low-hazard categories do not have a signal word assigned.
The HPR specifies which of these words is to be used for each hazard class and category.
Hazard and Precautionary Statements
On the label from the supplier, there will also be warnings about dangers. Hazard statements are short, standardized sentences that describe the dangers of the product. The exact statement(s) is determined by the specific hazard class(es) and category(ies) of the product.
Precautionary statements give standard advice on how to minimize or stop the harmful effects of the product. The exact statement(s) is determined by the specific hazard class(es) and category(ies) of the product. These statements can include instructions for storage, use, first aid, personal protective equipment, and emergency measures.
The following are examples of hazard statements:
- Extremely flammable gas
- Contains gas under pressure; may explode if heated
- Fatal if inhaled
- Causes eye irritation
- May cause cancer
TIP: The wording of the hazard statement helps to describe the degree of the hazard.
- May cause fire or explosion is more hazardous than May intensify fire
- Strong oxidizer is more hazardous than Oxidizer
- May cause cancer is more hazardous than Suspected of causing cancer
There are many precautionary statements, including:
- Keep container tightly closed
- Wear protective gloves/protective clothing/eye protection/face protection
- If exposed or concerned: Get medical advice/attention
- Fight fire remotely due to the risk of an explosion
- Protect from sunlight
Precautionary statements on labels may not identify all of the necessary control measures. Check the SDS for more information.
Example of the Label Elements
Here is a sample supplier label for Product K1.
The skull and crossbones pictogram indicates that the product poses a health hazard of higher concern, while the exclamation mark pictogram indicates that the product poses another health hazard, in this case, skin irritation.
The signal word is Danger.
The hazard statements are:
- Fatal if swallowed
- Causes skin irritation
This label also shows precautionary statements.
Even though labels from different suppliers may look different in terms of how they are laid out, they will be required on hazardous products that will be used at work. The regulations require that the pictogram, signal word, and hazard statements must all be in the same place.
1 - Product Identifier
The product name is exactly as it appears on the container and the safety data sheet.
2 - Hazard Pictogram(s)
This shows the hazard pictogram(s) as determined by the hazard classification of the product. In some cases, no pictogram may be required.
3 - Signal Word
Depending on the hazard class and category, the signal word will be either Danger to indicate a severe hazard or Warning to indicate a less severe hazard. Some categories do not have an assigned signal word. These categories are typically less hazardous.
4 - Hazard Statements
Hazard statements describe a product’s hazards. Suppliers use standardized hazard statements on their labels based on the hazard class and category of the product.
5 - Precautionary Statements
These statements describe recommended measures to minimize or prevent the hazards of the product, including protective equipment and emergency measures. First aid is included in precautionary information. Suppliers use standardized precautionary statements on their labels based on the hazard class and category of the product.
6 - Supplier Identification
This section lists the Canadian supplier – the Canadian company that made or packaged the product, and who is responsible for the label and SDS content. Contact information is also provided.
Reduced label information is allowed in some cases
In some specific situations, the requirements for the supplier label may be reduced. For example:
- Containers of 100 mL or less – Labels are allowed not to include the precautionary or hazard statements
- Containers of 3 mL or less – Where the label will interfere with the normal use of the product, the label may be removed during the use of the product
- Bulk shipments – Can be sold without a label if the product is not packaged; however, the employer needs to create a label for that product before it is used in the workplace.
A WHMIS label can also be a mark, sign, stamp, sticker, seal, ticket, tag, or wrapper. It can be attached, imprinted, stenciled, or embossed on the hazardous product or its container. Workers must be trained to be able to identify these alternate systems if they are used in the workplace.
As a worker, what do you have to do?
- Check to see if there is a supplier label
- Read, understand, and follow the instructions on it
- Follow your workplace's safe work procedures
- Ask for a new supplier label when the old one cannot be seen or read properly. If a new supplier label cannot be obtained, replace the supplier label with a workplace label
- Make sure that a workplace label is attached when you transfer a chemical to a new container
TIP: The intent of grouping the pictogram(s), signal word, and hazard statement(s) are to indicate the nature and severity of the hazard(s) presented by the product.