The race to produce vital medical supplies to combat COVID-19 has brought together workers across Canada in unprecedented ways. With a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) around the globe and a lack of Canadian manufacturing capacity to make up the difference, Ontario’s health care workers and first responders found unlikely allies in the auto parts supplier industry.
Workers at Woodbridge Foam in Vaughn typically produce molded foam products for car seats, arm rests, and vehicle headliners but are now on the job producing medical-grade surgical face masks. Unifor Local 112 represents nearly 200 workers and members are enthusiastic at the opportunity to help make a difference in the ongoing pandemic.
The prototype masks were developed in partnership with researchers at McMaster University’s Engineering and Medical Schools. The Woodbridge-produced masks are currently designated as ASTM Level 3 masks at present but are shown to filter pathogens and may pass further regulatory approval to a higher classification.
“This global shortage of medical supplies has shown us the dangers of hollowing out our manufacturing sector. We have the talent and the tools to build what we need in our own backyard,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Thanks to the heroic efforts of our members at Woodbridge Foam, we are now able to produce millions of high-quality Ontario-made masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”
The first prototype mask was delivered to McMaster University on March 28,2020 for analysis by researchers assisting in the design and certification of the masks. By April 7, 2020 Premier Doug Ford was at the Woodbridge Foam facility to help load the first 1,000 masks produced by workers. At full capacity, the facility can potentially manufacture up to one million masks per week.
“I’m very proud of our Local 112 members for working so hard and so fast to help so many health care workers. We will long remember the actions of our members and that they were here for all when we needed them,” said Scott McIlmoyle, Unifor Local 112 President. “We are thrilled at the chance to help out and relieve the shortage of vital personal protective equipment,” added John Turner, Unifor Local 112 Vice President.
The next phase of Health Canada’s certification of Woodbridge Foam’s masks will determine whether they qualify as N95 masks. The designation would allow for wider use of the masks in health care settings.