OHS Canada Magazine

The days of PPE ‘shrink it and pink it’ are over: Ontario’s labour minister

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March 15, 2023
By Todd Humber

ontario PPE for Women

Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, makes an announcement in London, Ont., on March 15, 2023. Photo: Government of Ontario

The days of “shrink it and pink it” when it comes to personal protective equipment (PPE) for women are over, according to Ontario’s labour minister.

The province is planning changes to ensure women in construction and the skilled trades feel welcome and have proper fitting gear, said Monte McNaughton during a press conference in London, Ont., on March 15.

“Everyone should have uniforms, boots and safety harnesses that properly fit,” he said.

It’s an issue that OHS Canada is tackling head-on with its live virtual event, PPE for Women, which kicks off at 1:30 p.m. ET on March 23. You can reserve your free spot, and see the full agenda, at https://www.ohscanada.com/virtual-events/ppe-for-women/

It comes in the wake of a CSA Group report released late last year that found just six per cent of Canadian women say the PPE they wear is designed for them.


Poor fitting and unsafe gear wasn’t the only target in the government’s announcement, which also addressed the lack of bathroom facilities for women and the general uncleanliness of washrooms on many construction sites.

“Across Ontario today, there are more than 600,000 people working in construction — every one of these men and women are heroes.”

Washroom facilities ‘unacceptable’

And for too long, these workers have been forgotten, he said.

“They work outdoors, often far away from many things that we take for granted in our workplaces, including clean and safe washrooms,” said McNaughton. “One of the biggest injustices I’ve seen on construction sites for a long time is a condition of washrooms.”

Since last month, health and safety inspectors have visited more than 1,800 job sites in Ontario and found more than 244 violations, he said. Common issues included not having any toilets, a lack of privacy and lack of cleaning, he said.

“The worse cases included job sites where portable washrooms had missing doors, missing walls and no place to wash your hands,” McNaughton said.

“For far too long, dirty washrooms have been considered acceptable. This ends now.”

The new rules being proposed, touted by the province as the toughest in North America, would require washrooms to be completely enclosed, private, adequately lit and be equipped with hand sanitizers if no running water is available.

It’s also doubling the number of washrooms required on job sites, and is mandating that at least one be dedicated to women.

“All too often, I hear from women that this is one of the reasons they don’t want to work in the skilled trades,” said McNaughton. “We need to do better, and we will.”

PPE for women

Women belong on construction sites, and need to see themselves reflected in the facilities, equipment and clothing made available, he said.

“This isn’t just about safety. It’s about sending the message that these jobs are open to both men and women. We need all hands on deck to build our future.”

Charmaine Williams, Associate Minister of Women’s Social and Economic Opportunity, said she’s heard from a lot of women about the issue of poor-fitting PPE.

“They sometimes can’t find the right coveralls, boots that are the right fit because maybe there’s only men sizes available,” said Williams. “You don’t want to be hoisted up on a harness, and it’s not fitting properly. These are important steps.”

If employers improve conditions, from facilities to gear, women will be attracted to the skilled trades and will stick around, she said.

“They’re going to stay and we’re going to see more women as journey people and more women in management positions,” said Williams.


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