Is WHMIS Training Mandatory for Every Worker?

When it comes to the question, “Is WHMIS training mandatory for every worker”, the simple answer may be “no.” Since the onus of training workers rests upon the employer, there’s a degree of subjectivity with respect to the word “mandatory”.

Those of us who’ve been in the safety and health industry for a while know that if we ask any 10 Canadians the question, “is WHMIS training mandatory for all workers”, and why, there will be a significant difference in their responses.

The best answer to the “is WHMIS training mandatory for all workers” dilemma would most likely result from changing a single word in the question. If we changed “all” to “most”, then the answer would be an easy yes.

Since the answer to whether or not you or your workers need WHMIS training could be a resounding yes, let’s examine what WHMIS training actually encompasses to figure out why.

The Purpose of WHMIS Training

When dealing with government regulations, many subjects are convoluted with complex terminology and technical language. Unfamiliar terms and acronyms often evolve into an almost exclusive jargon, which can be difficult to translate into a common medium of communication.

With the simple and straightforward concept behind WHMIS, “to protect workers in Canada from chemical hazards in the workplace”, it leaves little to the imagination. Even the name itself, Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, communicates the intention to create a forum for education and protection for all workers who may encounter hazardous products within their workplace.

To put it simply, WHMIS was created to protect workers from chemicals hazards that they may encounter while at work.

Two Basic Groupings of Workers with Respect to WHMIS Training

There would appear to be two separate classifications of workers, which through combination identify all members in the workplace. The first grouping will be workers who “are frequently” required to receive “mandatory” WHMIS training. The second classification would be workers who “may also require” the training.

Employers are responsible for making the decision which relates to employee safety and dangerous chemical contact, however, many occupations are easily identifiable and viewed more commonly as mandatory than others. If given the option to apply a more common sense approach to the situation, one might utilize the analogy of a medical facility operating with a “triage similar” protocol. Those employees who were most likely to encounter harmful chemicals on a day-to-day basis would be considered the most critical for training and those most far-removed in their typical duties might be listed as secondary concerns. Unlike medical professionals using their expertise to evaluate the seriousness of patient conditions, harmful chemicals have no capability to restrain themselves from crossing over any “perceived borders” concerning workplace safety. “Spills” are often considered as a synonym for “accidents” and ultimately any planning with respect to predicting or restricting them would be futile.

Is WHMIS Training Mandatory

Two Types of WHMIS Training

WHMIS training is commonly broken down into two types; “Education”, also referred to as “Generic/General WHMIS Training”, and “Workplace Specific Training.”

Generic/General WHMIS Training topics include adverse effects of exposure to hazardous chemicals, label reading, interpretation of safety data sheets and general WHMIS information. Due to the generic nature of the basic course, it is commonly offered in a live classroom setting, as well as online and also via video.

Workplace Specific WHMIS Training topics vary by company and include specific chemicals which are used, precautionary and emergency procedures, required PPE(personal protective equipment), and individual site-related policies and procedures. Training of this nature is conducted most often at the worksite.

It should be noted that many workers may frequently be required to take both types of training depending on their specific duties.

Workers Who Frequently Require Mandatory WHMIS Training

Factory Workers

Any employee who works with gasoline, cleaning fluid or lubricants must receive the training. Depending on the product manufactured, both types of training may be commonly required, based on the level of contact with chemicals.

Cleaners

Because of the need to continually deal with chemicals and hazardous materials (window cleaners, industrial floor cleaners, etc.), both types of WHMS training are frequently necessary.

Automotive

Due to job requirements centering around fluids, lubricants and other hazardous materials, both types of WHMIS training may be provided to workers, relying on the level of contact with harmful chemicals.

Contractors

Contact with driveway sealers, paints and glues may vary and both levels of training might be required.

Retail and Food Industry

The necessity of the training for this field is based on the type of cleaning products, gum removal solutions, oils, etc.

Healthcare and Laboratory Workers

Dealing with chemicals and substances which are hazardous on a day-to-day basis, both levels of training are usually required.

Teachers

Chemistry, Biology and Workshop instructors who work with harmful chemicals most certainly would be considered as recommended for both types of training, and teachers of other classes might benefit from generic training.

Students, Co-Op Students, and Interns

Although not legally bound, students co-op students and interns are often trained as a safety prerequisite for future careers. Training types depend upon the fields of study and chemical related, specific needs.

Volunteers

The need for WHMIS training varies according to jurisdictions, based on the non-technical status as a “worker.” Even though it may not be a legal requirement it is often considered a responsible measure to provide generalized training.

Frequency of WHMIS Training

It is recommended that workers be trained and refreshed on topics each year, and go no longer than three years without retraining. As a rule, if any worker is not properly trained, they should be immediately trained.

Employers are responsible for maintaining a safe workplace and the debate over the ideology behind “is WHMIS training mandatory for all workers” is answered by none other than those business owners and designated members of management. As with any learned process, a degree of difficulty and understanding of safety procedures is as individually “worker-specific” as any other set of skills. The correct answers to “how often” and “how many” can be answered with “how many and how often” is necessary to ensure proper WHMIS knowledge in every workplace.