April 21, 2021

EVERYBODY DOES IT, but only construction workers are expected to do it in a filthy portable toilet.

“We’re talking about the sanitation practices for workers on construction sites,” said Brynn Bourke, interim executive director for BCBT. “The time has come to question the longstanding practice of providing portable toilets on construction sites when there is a safer alternative.”

BCBT is calling on occupational health and safety regulators at WorkSafeBC to support, and where appropriate, require plumbed washroom facilities on construction sites.

“Construction workers have been dealing with unsanitary washrooms for decades,” said Bourke. “COVID-19 has highlighted the need for us to do better for the women and men doing this essential work of building and maintaining our province.”

BCBT commissioned a leading occupational health and safety consulting firm, the Harwood Safety Group, to conduct a situational analysis of sanitation in construction in B.C. The report found that the industry’s reliance on portable, non-plumbed washroom facilities (porta-potties) is “wholly inadequate.”

In B.C., regulations provide that workers must have access to plumbed washrooms, and they must be kept in clean and sanitary condition, except when plumbed facilities cannot be provided “because of the nature of the workplace.”

Given the availability of trailered facilities that are commonplace at public events and gatherings, or the option on larger projects to install fully plumbed-in washrooms, Bourke says the exception is no longer valid. She points to the prevalence of multi-year construction projects with 100 people or more on site that still, despite the regulations, choose to provide porta-potties for their workers.

“We compared the cost of providing portable toilets to providing plumbed facilities with flush toilets on a mid-size construction site of 100 workers and found it costs as little as $1 a day per worker to ensure protection from biological hazards.”

BCBT was a vocal and leading advocate of better health and hygiene practices on construction sites at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, publicly calling on WorkSafeBC to enforce existing health and safety regulations for all construction workers. While the industry made meaningful changes to improve safety, the poor conditions of toilet facilities stand out as an area that did not receive the permanent attention, sanitation and modernization required.

Bourke points out that flush toilet units offer hot and cold running water, and heat and illumination, which offer better conditions for effective cleaning and disinfection. Biological hazards that may be present in poorly maintained portable washrooms include both Hepatitis A and COVID-19.

“We’re asking for the most basic element of workplace hygiene to help ensure the personal dignity, health and safety of construction workers. It’s not too much to ask.”

BCBT has submitted its report to WorkSafeBC along with recommendations to modernize sanitation practices on construction sites.

The council has also launched a companion advocacy campaign – Let’s #GetFlushed” – aimed at highlighting the unacceptable sanitation conditions construction workers face every day.

“It’s a cheeky campaign about a serious issue that we’re trying to bring attention to,” says Bourke.

The campaign includes a social media component inviting workers to join the campaign for better sanitation.