Ontario plans to require women-only bathrooms on large construction sites

A Ministry of Labour bathroom inspection blitz last month at more than 1,800 construction sites found 244 violations, the most common being no toilets provided, a lack of privacy, or a lack of cleaning.

Inspection blitz last month found 244 bathroom-related violations, labour ministry says

Workers move lumber at a condo construction site in Toronto on March 20, 2020.
Ontario's Minister of Labour is proposing a host of bathroom-related changes for construction sites in the province. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario's labour minister is aiming to solve an excrement predicament.

Monte McNaughton announced Wednesday that he is proposing to amend rules about bathrooms on construction sites to make them cleaner, safer and provide some for women only.

A Ministry of Labour bathroom inspection blitz last month at more than 1,800 construction sites found 244 violations, the most common being no toilets provided, a lack of privacy, or a lack of cleaning.

"In what other industry would this be acceptable, right?" McNaughton said in an interview.

"These are men and women, not livestock, and it's important that they get the respect that they deserve. If we're going to encourage men and women into the skilled trades, then we need to ensure that we have proper facilities for them to use."

'It's just a big pile of feces'

McNaughton said he hears often from women in the skilled trades with stories about deplorable bathroom conditions. The labour minister set the stage for this announcement last month when he put out a call for workers to send him their bathroom horror stories.

"It's just a big pile of feces," said iron worker Mahee de Repentigny in a video featured on McNaughton's Twitter feed.

"No flushing, no water, no soap, no paper, no nothing. Might as well just go outside at that point."

She said she will sometimes have to leave work to find a Tim Horton's bathroom because the toilet on the site feels unsafe.

Requiring at least one women's-only toilet on large construction sites is one of a host of regulatory changes McNaughton is proposing. They come in conjunction with labour legislation set to be introduced this spring that includes greater protections for remote workers in mass layoffs and other, yet-to-be-announced changes.

The bathroom-related changes would also double the number of toilets required on construction sites, require adequate lighting, require hand sanitizer where there is no running water and require single toilets to be completely enclosed. Some portable toilets are only three-quarters of an adult's height with no roof, McNaughton said. Those would be banned.

New rules would come into force on July 1

Keeping toilets in a state of good repair is already required under current rules.

"Clearly, that's not happening," McNaughton said. "This new legislation will enhance every tool that we have to ensure that washrooms are cleaner than they ever have been on job sites."

It would also extend the good-repair requirement to urinals and cleanup facilities, such as stations with sinks.

McNaughton is also proposing to strengthen language in a requirement that personal protective equipment be properly fitted, so women and "workers with diverse body types" are specifically taken into account.

The new rules would come into force on July 1, if approved and filed by the government.

Everyone has horror stories, female worker says

Megan Kinch, who has worked for years as an construction electrician, said she has many horror stories about washrooms at job sites. She said she has had to go behind a pile of wood at a site when there haven't been washrooms.

In many cases, where there are portable washrooms, they haven't been serviced, she said. 

"You go to the bathroom, it's a porta-potty and there's what I call poop mountain, you know, overtop of the seat. This happens. And you always wonder who's the last guy to sit on there," she said.

She said some sites have facilities for men, but none for women — and women are not allowed to use them.

"And then if you complain, someone will be, like, oh, you should use the men's washroom, but then if you use the men's washroom, some man will complain, so you're always in this catch-22 around bathrooms" she said.

She said she has worked at sites that have a women's bathroom, but it's kept locked with no key for female workers.

But she said bathrooms are just one issue in the industry.

"We do need to be seeing more inspections, not just about washrooms. Washrooms are like the low-hanging fruit, because if there's a site that has horrible washroom issues, they probably have horrible safety issues," she said.

"Everyone deserves the right to a washroom."

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With files from Lorenda Reddekopp