Construction site washroom legislation ‘concrete’ measures to attract women

Construction workers on scaffolding in downtown Ottawa earlier this winter.  (Christian Patry/CBC - photo credit)

Construction workers on scaffolding in downtown Ottawa earlier this winter. (Christian Patry/CBC – photo credit)

Women who work in trades say it’s something many, if not all, have experienced on a construction site — having to leave the site to find a clean, private bathroom.

Laura Hutt says she was unprepared for such an obstacle when she entered the industry.

“I had no idea when I first showed up,” said the founder of Women in Steel Toes, a networking site for women in crafts.

“I remember the first job I ever did. The washroom was so far away it was actually closer to going to the local Tim Hortons.”

Earlier this week Labor Secretary Monte McNaughton announced legislative proposals to raise standards for bathrooms on construction sites.

A blitz of inspections last month at 1,800 sites found 244 violations, including lack of cleaning, privacy and, in some cases, no toilets at all.

The legislation would double the number of washrooms on construction sites and “require washrooms to be private and fully enclosed, have adequate lighting and have hand sanitizer where running water is not possible,” he said during the announcement.

It would also require at least one powder room at a site.

“Break To Your Confidence”

Gen Ellis, a journeyman boiler welder with local Niagara Union 128, said she recognized the need for change early in her career.

Working at the work were two women who had been given access to a washroom with a single cubicle and a lock.

It was in a busy area of ​​the site, close to where the workers kept their tools, but it had a lock so she felt comfortable using it.

“I have my overalls on and I take everything off because women have to do that to use the washroom,” she said on CBC radio Ottawa morning Friday.

Then the person assigned to clean the washroom used their key and opened the door.

“Everyone had a good look at me when I was using the washroom, and after that, when the worker and I met at the site, we kind of looked down because he was pretty embarrassed,” she said.

“When you’re in your early 20s, right, and you’re new to a business, it’s like a huge boost in your confidence.”

PSA, barriers to entry in childcare

France Daviault, CEO of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, said while the proposed legislation is a step in the right direction, there are still myriad obstacles to attracting more women into the profession.

Proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and childcare options are two major obstacles that concern Hutt and Ellis.

It’s not just about inclusion. It’s about doing something tangible. – France Daviault, Canadian Training Forum

Proposed legislation requires PPE to be properly fitted, which can pose a safety issue.

“You show up on site and your company often gives you company-issued PPE — half the time it doesn’t fit,” Hutt said.

“Some locations are required to wear gloves and you just don’t have gloves that really fit your hands. So wearing those big, baggy gloves could be even more dangerous.”

Childcare also presents a number of challenges due to the length of many shifts, Ellis said, as she sometimes works nearly 12 hours at a time.

“Or if we work the afternoon or night shift, there really isn’t any childcare available for someone, especially if it’s a single parent looking for a trade that provides decent safe childcare for someone,” he told Ellis.

Steve Rukavina

Steve Rukavina

“concrete step”

Daviault said harassment also remains a major barrier to making construction an attractive job for women, who make up just one in 20 construction workers.

“I would say the biggest obstacle is the idea that women have of ‘what is it like to be on a construction site?’ And unfortunately, they’re not wrong,” she said.

“I’m not saying all construction sites have these issues…but until the environment on a construction site changes, I’m afraid it will be very, very difficult.”

Daviault said the proposed legislation is important because of its impact and also because of the message it sends.

“It’s a concrete step. It’s not just about how important it is. It’s not just about inclusion. It’s about doing something tangible,” Daviault said.

“It sends a message, and that’s just as important, and I hope people hear it.”


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