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WHMIS education and training requirements

Written by: Rob Hallsworth

Published on: 7 September 2022

WHMIS training and education keeps workers safe

Every workplace depends on chemical products to make tasks possible, faster or easier. In fact, a typical workplace use about 100 chemical products. About 70% of these products have WHMIS hazards that can affect the health and safety of employees.

That's why it's so important for workers to understand the hazards of the products they use and how to protect themselves. Even something as seemingly simple as hand soap can have a WHMIS hazard of "May cause cancer"! 

Canada’s Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is designed to protect worker health and safety and to reduce the prevalence of occupational disease. WHMIS legislation sets out employer responsibilities, including for education and training, when a hazardous product is used in the workplace.

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), employers are required to:

  1. Educate and train workers on the hazards and safe use of products.
  2. Ensure that hazardous products are properly labelled.
  3. Prepare workplace labels, as needed.
  4. Prepare Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), as necessary (e.g., if an employer manufactures a hazardous product that is used on-site).
  5. Provide access to up-to-date SDSs to workers.
  6. Ensure appropriate control measures are in place to protect the health and safety of workers.

In this article, we’ll discuss the WHMIS requirement to educate and train workers on the hazards and safe use of chemical products.

The difference between WHMIS “education” and “training”

The CCOHS states that WHMIS education and training are two separate requirements:

“Education refers to general or portable information such as how WHMIS works and the hazards of the products. For example, you will learn about the hazard classes (e.g., why a product is called a corrosive, and what information you can find on labels and SDSs).

Training refers to the site- and job-specific information to employees that will cover your workplace's procedures for storage, handling, use, disposal, emergencies, spills, and what to do in unusual situations.”

General WHMIS education applies to all workplaces; however, each workplace is different, and the potential exposure to hazardous products will vary. Employers must make sure that workers also receive WHMIS training that is specific to the hazards in your workplace, and to the work that your employees will be performing.

WHMIS training and education infographic

WHMIS education is general in nature

Online WHMIS courses typically address the WHMIS educational requirement. They provide employees with the following information:

  • An explanation of how the WHMIS system works, e.g., that hazardous products are grouped into classes and categories.
  • A review of a limited number of hazards – e.g., “Simple asphyxiants are gases that displace air.”
  • Clarification of roles and responsibilities – e.g., “Employers are responsible for ensuring workers understand the hazards of the products they work with.”

This is useful general information but does not provide the workplace or chemical-specific information that is also required by WHMIS.

WHMIS training is specific to the hazards found in your workplace

For each chemical product in your workplace, WHMIS also requires employers to ensure that employees receive site- and job-specific training on the procedures in place for safe storage, handling, use, disposal, emergencies, spills, and other unusual situations.

To safely handle chemical products, workers should be able to answer these four questions for every hazardous product they work with:

  1. What are the hazards of the product?
  2. How do I protect myself from those hazards?
  3. What do I do in case of an emergency?
  4. Where can I get further information?

See more information from the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development about employers’ responsibilities to educate workers who work with, or may be exposed to, a hazardous product.

When is WHMIS training required?

All workplaces in Canada that use hazardous products are required by law to provide WHMIS education and training to all workers who:

  • May be exposed to a hazardous product due to their work activities (including normal use, maintenance activities, or emergencies).
  • Use, store, handle or dispose of a hazardous product.
  • Supervise or manage workers who may be exposed, or use, store, handle or dispose of a hazardous product.
  • Are involved in emergency response.

Plus, refresher WHMIS education and training is generally required in the following circumstances:

  • As needed to protect the worker's health and safety.
  • If conditions of the workplace have changed.
  • If new products are introduced.
  • If the products have changed and now have different hazards.
  • When new hazard information becomes available.
  • If there is new information about safe use, handling, storage or disposal.

Visit the CCOHS website to learn more about WHMIS education and training requirements.

Effective WHMIS training with SDS RiskAssist

SDS RiskAssist takes a two-pronged approach to help employers address WHMIS’s site- and job-specific training requirement in an effective and expeditious manner.

Our Hazard Micro-Training Module focuses on the most common hazards in your workplace, which we determine using SDS RiskAssist chemical safety software. For example, eye hazards are the most common chemical hazard found in Canadian workplaces. There are 3 different hazard statements. Information on these hazards is as follows:

3 hazard statements for eye hazards

This allows WHMIS training to focus on the most commonly found hazards in a given workplace. This training could differ between locations for the same employer.

SDS RiskAssist SafetySnaps: chemical-specific WHMIS training, anywhere, anytime

SDS RiskAssist SafetySnaps are clear, concise summaries of all your SDSs with easy-to-understand instructions and PPE requirements at a glance.

No longer are workers required to spend hours reading SDSs and trying remember an impossible amount of information to stay safe on the job. SafetySnaps make all the essential information easily accessible 24/7 on a smartphone so employees have all the info they need at a glance – WHMIS training on the go – to reduce the risk of incidents that can affect their health and safety and result in lost time, delays and major fines.

Also see our Guide to WHMIS Symbols and Meanings.

Post updated March 27, 2024

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SDS RiskAssist an Ontario-based company that uses the power of technology to give employers control and understanding over the otherwise pervasive and worrisome use of chemicals. SDS RiskAssist enables workers to know why chemicals are being used, what their benefits and hazards are and how to use them safely! Workers can access this knowledge via mobile or desktop SafetySnaps™, from anywhere in the world. SDS RiskAssist is the winner for 5 years running, of Readers’ Choice Awards by Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine (2018-2022); the 2019 Innovation Guelph Startup of the Year Award; the 2019 Quinte Business Achievement Award (Trailblazer category) and The Ottawa Network’s 2020 Bootstrap Award (SaaS category). We support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, working with our clients to take action for a sustainable planet.