Auto Service World
Feature   July 1, 2008   by Tom Venetis, Editor


WHMIS is the first step in not only protecting workers, but in environmental compliance as well

Every business owner must take the time to provide his or her employees with WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) training. WHMIS covers anyone who must store, handle and dispose of controlled products, as well as anyone who supervises an employee who performs such duties; and anyone whose health and safety could be at risk during the storage, handling and disposal of such products.

Depending on the size of the operations, a shop will likely have to appoint a senior manager to coordinate WHMIS training for everyone in the shop and to help identify all the chemicals used in the workplace covered by WHMIS. Once identified, the employer and the senior manager in charge of WHMIS will then contact the suppliers of the products to obtain Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and set up a master file of those sheets which are to be updated regularly.

“The sheets will tell you, on antifreeze for example, the product identification, its components and make-up, its physical characteristics — such as freezing point and reactivity data — explosion and fire risk and all preventative measures to be taken for its care and handling,” says Tim Togeretz, owner of OK Tire & Auto Service. “(The sheets) also tell you not only how to properly store the materials, but also the proper procedures for handling any spills.”

Togeretz says the range of auto repair and maintenance materials covered by WHMIS is quite extensive. Along with antifreeze, a shop’s employees will have MSDS on such things as repair glues, acetylene, air tool oil, brake and floor cleaning fluids, intake injector cleaners, oil stabilizers, parts cleaners, windshield wiper fluids and even wheel weights.

While this all sound rather daunting, WHMIS is actually not that complicated. Togeretz says WHMIS make identifying the materials rather easy and once the MSDS are put together it is also easy to keep them up-to-date. The handling and care procedures are clearly spelled out in the MSDS, including how to handle things if there is a spill or an accident. As well, WHMIS training for the staff is not as onerous as it might appear. Today, WHMIS training can now be done online and rather quickly. Togeretz and his staff took their training with Professor B, an online program offered by MHSafety Inc. (

and his staff was quickly certified after reviewing the training and passing the examination which is administered online as well. Internet- based programs allow for a great deal of flexibility, allowing employees and shop owners to schedule training times with a person’s work hours, and for people to constantly review and update their WHMIS skills. The Industrial Accident Prevention Association ( also has extensive information about WHMIS and training programs and how to help shops get up-to-speed on the program.

But what is most important about WHMIS is the training and skills learned can form the base for helping a shop become environmentally compliant as well.

“WHMIS safety and environmental safety are in the same category in my shop,” Togeretz says. “All the environmental things that we have to abide by and all of the safety and health rules are all the same here.”

Environmental Compliance

What Togeretz says about environmental compliance and health and safety is not hard to grasp when you think about it in this way. Take a spill of a hazardous liquid or of a chemical commonly used in automotive repair. When it happens, a shop owner wants to make sure it is properly taken care of because he or she does not want to harm the health or safety of their employees. But proper handling of that same spill also protects the value of their business, by helping prevent contamination of the property. While the spilling or leakage of some chemical or solvent might seem to some to be something to not get too worried about, the problem comes over the long term. Too many spills or leaks of materials over time can contaminate the property which will have financial consequences when it comes time to sell the business or getting financing for renovations, for example.

David Crocker, who heads the environmental group with Davis LLP, a law firm that handles environmental and occupational law, and says financial institutions now routinely ask service shops for an environmental assessment before approving financing of any sort.

“Having a spill should not interfere with your right to operate a garage,” Crocker says. “Where it will have an impact is if you try to sell your garage or are using the garage as equity. It is important to get an environmental assessment because the assessment will affect the value of the property. If there is discovered to be any contamination, it will reduce the value (of the property) and it will reduce the amount the lender will be willing to give you.”

It can get even worse. If a neighbouring property discovers its site has been contaminated by the shop next door, the owner of the shop could be on the hook to clean up not only their property, but the neighbours as well, says Crocker.

Toronto-based T. Harris Environmental Management Inc. (

is one company that provides environmental assessments. Dennis Mouck, occupational health and safety and environmental technician with T. Harris says there are typically two parts to an environmental assessment. A Phase 1 report will provide a shop owner with the historical background of the property and identify the location of such things as storage tanks or underground gasoline tanks. It will also note if the site has had different kinds of business on its premise and how they might have affected the site, and even if there is something nearby on another property that might the affect the site from an environmental perspective. Phase 2 of the assessment involves direct sampling and testing of such things as soil and water, and the identification of problem areas and where spills have happened and what kinds of contamination has occurred.

“Where all this becomes important is with re-financing or selling or buying of properties,” says Mouck. “An environmental assessment can help you get a ‘clean bill of health’ with a bank or financial institution.”

One thing companies like T. Harris Environmental and legal experts like Crocker agree on is automotive service shops need to be proactive in environmental matters, as a well-done assessment can catch things long before they become a costly in the future.

Ed Jagt, owner of Pro-Tech Tire & Auto did an environmental assessment of his own premise in the early 90s. He said it was useful in helping find things that could have gotten him into trouble with Ontario Ministry of the Environment and had the added benefit of making his work environment even safer for his technicians. For example, he now stores glycol in containers with lockdown lids and protective seals preventing both contamination and the release of any possible vapours that could harm someone.

“With our new batteries, we used to store them in part of stockroom that was a bit confining,” Jagt says. “We were told that doing so might cause vapours to accumulate and might even explode under certain conditions. We now store all new batteries in our larger stockroom which is better ventilated for safety.”

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