WHMIS Training: The Ultimate Guide

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WHMIS Training 101

One topic that is common among Canadian workers, employers, and legislative organizations is WHMIS training. Doing a simple google search will reveal that the topic of WHMIS training presents many questions, some that have clear answers, and others with answers that are not so clear.

We’ve put together this resource to answer all of your questions and provide you with all of the WHMIS training information that you’ll ever need. Our goal is to make it easy for you to determine the best way to approach getting certified or training your workforce.

Whether you’re an individual worker looking to get your certification, or an employer looking to find out what your responsibilities are relating to WHMIS training, this resource is for you.

What is WHMIS Education and Training?

WHMIS education and training refers to information and instruction that must be provided to most Canadian workers. While there are many different methods in which workers can receive WHMIS Training and Education, the goal always remains the same; ensure that workers receive, understand, and use the necessary information to stay safe while working with hazardous products in the workplace.

General and Workplace Specific Training

WHMIS Education and Training consists of two parts; education and training.

Education, which is commonly referred to as “general” or “generic” training, is intended to provide general information on WHMIS principals, safety data sheets, hazard classification, labels, and other knowledge that is not specific to an individual workplace.

The topics commonly included in General Training / Education are:

  • What WHMIS is and its purpose
  • Duties and responsibilities
  • How chemicals enter the body
  • Adverse health effects
  • Labels and what they’re required to display
  • Pictograms
  • How to read safety data sheets
  • General safety guidelines

Training, or “Workplace-specific training” refers to information that is job-specific and/or site-specific. It communicates relevant workplace procedures for handling, storing, using, and the disposal of hazardous products that are specific to the actual workplace or worksite where the employee will be working. It also includes information about the actual hazardous products that the workers will be using.

The topics commonly included in Workplace-specific training are:

  • Specific safety precautions
  • Emergency procedures
  • Handling and use requirements
  • Required PPE, where to find it, and how it’s used
  • Specialized policies and procedures relating to specific chemicals
  • The meaning of signal words and hazard statements on labels and SDSs in the workplace
  • Workplace labeling requirements
general and workplace specific whmis training

WHMIS Training Requirements

Some of the most common questions about WHMIS training relate to the specific requirements. These include questions such as who needs the Training, what content needs to be included, and how often should workers receive the training, among others. Even though the answers to these questions are dependent on several factors, and are not always clear, there are guidelines and best practices that can be followed to ensure that training requirements are being met at all times.

Who Needs WHMIS Training in 2021?

Depending on who you ask, the answer to the question, “who needs WHMIS training”, can vary significantly. Answers can range from, “workers who use chemicals to, “everyone in Canada”.

To figure out the best answer to this question, let’s consider the specific purpose of WHMIS training; to protect workers in Canada from chemical hazards in the workplace. By examining this alone, we can conclude that there are two factors that both must be present in order for an individual to require the training:

  1. The individual must be a worker in Canada
  2. The worker must be at risk of exposure to chemical hazards in the workplace

The first one is easy. It’s not difficult to determine if an individual is a worker in Canada. The second one, in some cases, is also easy. If an individual works directly with a chemical or multiple chemicals, then it’s obvious that the risk of exposure to chemical hazards exists.

Here’s where it gets tricky.

Most workers in Canada do not actually work directly with hazardous products. Some employers believe that because of this, they don’t need to provide training to their workers. This is simply not true. Even if a worker does not work directly with hazardous products, depending on circumstances in the workplace, they can still be exposed to chemical hazards.

Consequently, even if an employee infrequently works near a chemical product, and for a short period of time is exposed to the hazards associated with the product, they’ll need to be trained on WHMIS.

The Extent of Training

Chemical products are everywhere, therefore, they can likely be found in a very large percentage of workplaces. It’s up to an employer to determine what chemicals hazards are present, and then determine if their employees will be exposed to them. In most cases, their workers will require WHMIS training.

What’s important in many of these cases is the extent of Training that’s required.

An employee that directly works with a hazardous chemical will require more extensive training than an employee who works near a closet where cleaning supplies are stored. Both will require general WHMIS training at a minimum. The employee who works directly with a hazardous product will require additional training that is specific to the chemicals that they’re handling.

Workers Must Receive WHMIS Training

What Should WHMIS Training Include?

As previously mentioned, there are two types of WHMIS Training; general and workplace specific. Defining what content is required in general training is relatively straightforward, so let’s start there.

General Training

One of the most important content requirements of general training is related to compliance. To put it simply, any general training worthy of taking or giving to your workers must be compliant, and up-to-date with the current standards and legislation.

In February of 2015, Canada adopted several components from the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemical (GHS). This resulted in what is now called WHMIS 2015. As of that date, in order for Training to be compliant, it has to include WHMIS 2015 information. However, there’s more to it.

Because there is a transitional period for WHMIS 2015 that lasts until 2018, components from the old WHMIS (WHMIS 1988) will still be used in Candian workplaces. This means that not only does training have to include WHMIS 2015 to be compliant, but WHMIS 1988 as well.

General Training should include information on the following topics:

  • What WHMIS is and why it’s important
  • WHMIS rights and responsibilities
  • Chemicals and their adverse health effects
  • How chemicals enter the body
  • Hazard classification
  • The meanings of symbols and pictograms
  • How to read safety data sheets and material safety data sheets
  • How to read labels, and what information is required to be displayed on them
  • WHMIS education and training requirements
  • General safety and protective measures

Workplace Specific Training

Different workplaces use different hazardous products and have unique circumstances. Because of this, the content required to be included in workplace specific training is not quite as easy to define. As a result, employers must assess their workplaces and the actual chemicals that they use in order to determine what their workplace specific training will contain.

Workplace specific training should include information on the following:

  • The types of chemicals used in the workplace
  • Specific safety precautions
  • Emergency procedures
  • Handling, use, and accidental spill requirements
  • Required personal protective equipment, where to find it, and how to use it
  • Specialized policies and procedures
  • First aid measures
WHMIS Training 1988 and 2015

WHMIS Knowledge Evaluation

Training should conclude with an evaluation of some type that verifies the learner has retained the required WHMIS information and knowledge. The most common types of evaluations used are tests, quizzes, exams, and even knowledge “checkpoints” strategically placed throughout the training.

Training evaluations are extremely important. They help to ensure that a worker is competent in the subject matter, and possesses the knowledge to protect themselves from chemical hazards that they may encounter in the workplace.

WHMIS Training Test

When and How Often?

Two of the most common questions relating to WHMIS Training are, “when is Training required”, and, “how often do workers need it”. The latter is basically the same as asking whether or not WHMIS Training Expires. We’re going to examine both.

First, let’s address the question of when since it’s relatively easy and straight forward.

When is Training Required

Workers must be trained in WHMIS before handling or working around hazardous products. To put it in practical terms, if you have an employee who starts working for you today, and there’s a chance that they’ll be working with or around hazardous products today, then they’ll need the training before starting their duties. There should be no exceptions to this.

How Often is Training Required

The question of how often do workers need training is a little more complex. There’s nothing specific in the legislation that addresses how often a worker should be trained in WHMIS.

In addition to the above, the frequency in which workers need to renew their training varies. The industry the employee works in, the types of chemicals that they’re exposed to and the extent of risk when exposed to those chemicals all play a significant role in how often workers will need training.

Since ensuring that employees receive adequate WHMIS information, instruction and training is ultimately the responsibility of employers, the best way to determine the frequency of training is for each employer to perform an assessment of their workplace. The details gathered during an assessment will make it much easier to determine a reasonable training frequency.

Best Practices

Even though this is not specifically addressed in legislation, there are some guidelines and best practices that can be followed to help ensure that workers are receiving training when required.

You can view some of these guidelines and best practices in the following article: Does WHMIS Training Expire?

WHMIS Training Responsibilities

The responsibilities relating to WHMIS training are relatively straight forward and revolve mainly around the Employer and Worker.

Employers are responsible for ensuring that their workers receive adequate training prior to being exposed to chemical hazards and at the appropriate intervals thereafter.

Workers are required to participate in training and use their knowledge to work safely.

WHMIS Legislation

WHMIS is legislated by both Federal and Provincial governments.

The Federal WHMIS Legislation establishes which hazardous products are regulated under WHMIS. It also deals with the sale and importation of hazardous products. When a hazardous product is introduced into a workplace, the Provincial Legislation “kicks in”. The exception to this is workplaces that fall under federal jurisdiction.

Provincial Legislation

The Provincial legislation covers the user of hazardous products in the workplace and identifies the responsibilities of employers and workers. In most cases, this means that any legislated training requirements will be included in the provincial legislation.

While there may be subtle differences in Legislation from province to province, for the most part, the legislative requirements relating to training are very similar.

Here’s what most provincial legislation has to say about WHMIS Training.

Employers must ensure that every worker who works with a hazardous product or may be exposed to a hazardous product throughout the course of their work duties must be trained on the following:

  • The information that’s required to be displayed on supplier and workplace labels. And further, the purpose and significance of the information contained on those labels
  • The information that’s required to be contained on a safety data sheet. And further, the purpose and significance of that information
  • Procedures for the safe use, storage, handling, and disposal of hazardous products used in the workplace
  • Procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency involving a hazardous product used in the workplace

 Important Questions That Workers Must Be Able to Answer

As mentioned earlier, the legislation doesn’t specify how to conduct training, how frequently it’s required, or how to evaluate its effectiveness. One indicator that companies can use to gauge the effectiveness of their training is whether or not their workers can answer the following questions:

  1. What are the hazards associated with the hazardous products that they use or may be exposed to in the workplace
  2. How can they protect themselves from those hazards
  3. What are they required to do in the case of an emergency
  4. Where can they get additional information

Training Options

We mentioned earlier that the Legislation does not specify that any particular method of WHMIS training is used. While this can result in some uncertainty and questions being raised, it’s actually great news.

The circumstances in each workplace can vary dramatically. Also, the learning style of workers varies just as much, if not more. It’s for these reasons that a single method of training would not be effective in all cases. Luckily, there are several options for both individuals looking to get WHMIS certified and employers looking to train their workers.

Getting WHMIS Certified

In many, if not most cases, workers will have WHMIS training provided to them by their employer. This will typically be accomplished by one of the methods discussed below. In some cases, however, individuals will be given the task to get WHMIS certified on their own.

For instance, some employers may require that their workers possess a WHMIS Certificate prior to being hired, and before starting their first day of work. Additionally, there are employers who require that their workers receive general training on their own and reimburse them the costs afterward.

Online WHMIS Certification

There are quite a few options these days for workers to get their WHMIS certificate. Among the most popular is taking their WHMIS training online. Getting a WHMIS certificate online provides several benefits to individual learners. The main benefits of Online WHMIS Certification include:

  • No travel necessary
  • Taking the training at the learner’s own pace
  • Completing the training faster than traditional methods
  • Getting a WHMIS Certificate instantly after completing the training
  • Storage of certificates and the ability to access and reprint at any time
  • Much more affordable than traditional methods
  • Unlimited access to training and reference materials

Of course, sourcing a good online training provider will be necessary to take advantage of all the benefits of online training.

Other Methods of Getting WHMIS Certified

Even though online training may be the easiest method of getting WHMIS certified, other methods do exist. Instructor-led, classroom-based training offered by third party providers is another way for workers to get their WHMIS certificate.

This method offers the advantage of being face-to-face with a WHMIS instructor who can quickly answer any questions that the worker may have. If a worker prefers learning in a live group environment, this method could be their best option.

Of course, as with any method, there are disadvantages associated with live instructor-led training. Instructor-led training is usually more costly and requires learners to travel to a training center. Additionally, it typically takes longer than online and video-based training methods.

Workplace Specific Training

Regardless of the method workers use to get their WHMIS certificate, they will likely still need site-specific training in most cases. This must be done by the employer, and can rarely be accomplished effectively by a third party.

Site-specific training will cover aspects that are specific to the actual workplace where the worker will be handling or exposed to the products. Further, site-specific training provides the worker with details about the specific hazardous products contained within the workplace.

WHMIS Training Certified

Training Your Workers

Training workers in WHMIS can seem daunting for employers. This is especially true when considering the many challenges companies can face.

Due to operational requirements and limited resources, many employers have a very hard time making groups of workers available for training. This doesn’t just result in workers not getting trained. In many cases, it also results in decreased efficiency of available resources.

For example, if a company can only make three to five workers available at a time for training, the designated trainer will have to facilitate many sessions. Further, if using an outside training provider, costs are increased significantly.

Of course, for other employers, this may not be an issue. They may have ample resources that allow them to make large groups of workers available regularly, without negatively impacting productivity. In this case, they are able to meet their requirements by training all workers, and they do so efficiently at minimal cost.

Selecting the Right Training OptionWHMIS Training

Each employer is different. That’s why there’s no “one size fits all” method of training. Luckily, employers have multiple options.

With a bit of planning and research, employers are able to find and implement the best possible training solutions for their current circumstances. And as their specific circumstances change, so may the methods in which they provide training to their workers.

It doesn’t have to be difficult for employers to ensure that their workers get the training that they need at a reasonable cost, all without inhibiting productivity. Below, we’ve summarized some of the most popular methods that employers can use to train their workers in WHMIS.

Instructor-Led Training

An instructor-led approach is one of the most traditional methods of providing training to workers. Instructor-led training typically takes place at the workplace in a classroom setting. If an external instructor is used, the training may take place at the workplace or at the providers training facility.

Instructor-led training usually contains lecture components and is often augmented with training materials that include a WHMIS PowerPoint presentation, workbooks, and other related materials.

Pros and Cons of Instructor-Led Training

Instructor-led training can be extremely effective if done correctly. Additionally, it usually works best when supplemented with high-quality training materials. Engaging participants throughout the training also significantly increases the effectiveness of this method of training. For instance, a workshop format that encourages group discussion revolving around workplace-specific applications is ideal.

The Pros:

  • Group learning environment works great for some workers
  • Interactivity with coworkers
  • An instructor is available to answer questions instantly

This method of training can work extremely well for some employers depending on their specific circumstances. There are, however, some negative aspects of instructor-led training that must be considered.

The Cons:

  • Typically costs more money, and training takes longer than other methods
  • It can be difficult to make workers available for group training resulting in training gaps
  • Negative impact on operations in some environments due to stopping production to get workers trained
  • Time-consuming to create high-quality supplementary training materials
  • Workers can’t learn at their own pace. They must move with the pace of the class
  • Inconsistency in information delivered from class to class
  • Difficulties with facilitation and record-keeping

If you’re an employer, you may determine that instructor-led training will work best for your company. If this is the case, ensure that you use high-quality, easy-to-understand supplementary training content.

Instructor-Led WHMIS Training

Video-Based WHMIS TrainingWHMIS Training Video

Video-based training is another option that some employers use to provide WHMIS training to their workforce.

Like other methods, video-based WHMIS Training can be effective if used strategically. In order to be effective, any WHMIS videos used for training must be of high-quality, as well as be compliant, and up-to-date with the current standards and legislation. That means that they must include information on both WHMIS 1988 and WHMIS 2015.

Pros and Cons of Video-Based WHMIS Training

WHMIS videos can be used as a stand-alone method to certify workers in general WHMIS principals when accompanied by some type of evaluation. In most cases, however, they are used to enhance WHMIS training by coupling with other methods, such as instructor-led or online WHMIS training.

The Pros: 

  • Training takes less time to complete compared to instructor-led training
  • Relatively low costs due to pricing of materials and reduced travel
  • Ease of access and use
  • Consistent message

The Cons:

  • Inability to interact with an instructor for immediate feedback if used as standalone training
  • Facilitation and record-keeping are required
  • Extremely expensive and time-consuming to produce custom videos
  • Difficult to find high-quality, off-the-shelf videos for a reasonable cost