Hospital forbids tattoos


Rob Driskell stepped onto an elevator at the Ottawa Hospital where a female therapist sized him up.

“She asked me, ‘are you allowed to work like that?’” said Driskell.

He had no idea what she was referring to.

“With all that paint on your arms (the woman said). She didn’t even know what to call it. That was 15 years ago and I haven’t heard a peep since.”

But now, Ottawa Hospital staff members with tattoos and piercings are being told to cover up — even if they aren’t dealing with the public or food.

A new dress code policy implemented last month requires all staff to conceal visible tattoos and remove “excessive” body piercings.

“I have no problem with the (hospital asking) people with piercings to remove them if they’re in food preparation, or if they’re in direct patient care, but other than that, I think it’s up to individuals to decide what jewelry they want to wear,” said Driskell, who’s worked as a cleaner in the psychiatry unit for 22 years.

The last six have been spent as executive chief steward with CUPE Local 4000.

Driskell has tattoos on both arms. He’s been collecting them for 28 years.

“As part of a protest, I’ve been wearing short sleeves to all the meetings,” he said. “I took this very personal.”

The policy revisions, implemented in March, ban “visible, excessive body piercings” and require all staff to cover large, visible tattoos during working hours.

In non-clinical settings, body piercings should be “minimal and conservative,” must not pose a safety hazard.

“Small, discreet, unobtrusive tattoos can be exposed,” according to the policy.

Ottawa Hospital officials were unavailable to comment Friday, but a statement on the hospital website says the broader dress code policy “strengthens the quality of patients’ interactions with staff, improves infection control, and ensures TOH will continue to portray a professional image.”

Some workers who have defied the dress code have been given verbal warnings. Others have been sent home, Driskell said.

Officials at the Queensway Carleton Hospital said the west-end facility — which does not fall under the Ottawa Hospital umbrella — has no policy prohibiting visible tattoos or piercings.

That’s good news for nurses.

“I probably tattoo a nurse a week,” said Silverline Tattoo artist and manager Buzz McDiarmid “I tattooed a nurse today. She got three flowers on her foot.”

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