For those interested in entering the oilfield, pipeline, construction or skilled trades industries, it’s no secret that health and safety is a huge concern for companies.

To ensure that Canadian workers are kept safe from the negative effects of mishandling hazardous materials and products, WHMIS was developed and made law in Canada.

If you are approaching a new career that requires WHMIS training, here is a breakdown of what WHMIS is and why it is important:

What Does WHMIS Stand For?

WHMIS stands for Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System and is Canada’s national standard when it comes to workplace hazard communication.

WHMIS (pronounced “whim-is”) was first introduced in 1988 and has evolved into a system used to identify hazardous chemicals using symbols as well as a safety data sheet known as the SDS.

It was initially created to stop injuries, illnesses, deaths and workplace incidents related to the use and handling of hazardous materials.

WHMIS was passed into law through a series of federal, provincial and territorial legislation and incorporated into the Hazardous Products Act and the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act of Canada.

What is WHMIS Training?

WHMIS training is an educational program provided by the employer, by a qualified person or agency chosen by the employer or accessed by the employee.

The training is intended for employees who work with or close to hazardous materials. 

Employers are required by law to ensure the safety of their employees. Therefore, they are also required to identify potential hazards in the workplace.

What Are the Two Types of WHMIS Training?

The two types of WHMIS training are General Training and Workplace Specific Training.

General Training is often referred to as the generic component of the WHMIS program.

The information provided in this type of training focuses on WHMIS legislation, the adverse effect of hazardous chemical exposure, reading labels and safety data sheets as well as other general information about the program.

General training can be taken in a classroom, via video or through online training.

On the other hand, Workplace Specific Training can vary from company to company as it teaches information unique to the workplace. 

This training includes specific safety and emergency procedures as well as required PPE (personal protective equipment) and company-specific policies and procedures.

Workplace Specific Training takes place in the workplace or on the worksite.

Can WHMIS Training Be Done Online?

As mentioned above, WHMIS General Training can be completed online.

However, not all online WHMIS courses are created equally, so it is important to note the following before signing up:

  • Compliance. Online WHMIS training must be compliant and contain important information required by legislation. Compliant training will include information from WHMIS 1988 as well as the GHS-aligned WHMIS 2015 system
  • Efficiency. You should be able to learn the required information in a reasonable amount of time. 
  • Knowledge Assessment. Courses that implement quizzes and final exams will ensure that you are retaining the necessary knowledge to do your job safely.
  • Value. Compare the cost of the course to what you will receive - Does the course include a reprintable certificate? Are exam retakes free?

Be wary of “free” online courses as well - while the education may be free, most companies will charge you for the certificate.

Before you invest in an online course, check with your employer to see if they only accept certificates from certain training programs.

Is Online WHMIS Training Difficult?

Online WHMIS training is convenient, comfortable and accessible to a wider range of individuals. 

Students of different abilities can learn at their own pace and students can learn the information in many ways. For example, courses often offer a mix of visual, audio and interactive components.

For some, however, a classroom setting may make focusing on the material easier with a live instructor to answer questions.

Whether or not online WHMIS training is difficult relies completely on the individual.

When is WHMIS Training Required?

Legally, WHMIS training is required for all employees who are exposed or could be exposed to a hazardous material or product in the workplace.

For instance, many products used at oil and gas sites can be hazardous to a worker’s health and safety.

When these products are labeled as “controlled products” under WHMIS, the employer is legally obligated to provide specific information about the product on the worksite.

How Often Does WHMIS Training Need to be Provided?

Companies are required to review their WHMIS program at least annually to determine if employees are still adequately trained and knowledgeable.

While there is no legislation that specifies how often a worker must take WHMIS training and no official expiration date on certification, it is recommended that the training be done at least once a year.

Obtaining Your WHMIS Certification

Find WHMIS courses online here