June 15, 2021

Al PhillipsTHE BC BUILDING TRADES RECENTLY commissioned an independent report on the sanitation conditions on construction sites in British Columbia. The Report on Washroom Facilities in the Construction Industry provides an in-depth analysis of the current landscape on most construction sites and provides several recommendations that most workers in the non-construction sector take for granted. As the business manager of UA Local 170, a local in which a significant number of our members work daily to provide and maintain proper water and sanitation systems, this report definitely hit a nerve.

The valuable work of the plumber is often overlooked, and we take for granted that they bring us the most essential needs for life in the form of potable water. In addition to this basic human need, the craft has also preserved human life and protected our health by providing sanitary sewage systems to take away human waste, and in modern times and First World economies, treat the byproducts so as to bring them back to near potable levels. The advancements in the plumbing trade and the products available contribute greatly to the options available to craftspeople who often design, install, test, commission and service these critical systems on which we rely. Advances in human hygiene and the elimination of communicable disease has been credited to advances made in plumbing throughout history, and our membership continues to pride itself on maintaining the highest standards in the industry when it comes to providing clean, safe drinking water and proper sanitation. This is our work and purpose.

It is inconceivable that the current day norms for worksite plumbing and sanitation – norms that have been advanced by our membership – are neither available nor considered affordable for our construction workforce. In this day and age, with all the advances in technology and health and safety standards, construction workers should be provided access to sanitary health facilities that can be achieved at a very low cost. In turn, this would have a positive effect on the overall health of our workers and prevent the transmission of diseases, including COVID-19. As outlined in the report, it is entirely feasible for most construction worksites (economically and otherwise) to provide facilities connected to mains, water and drainage systems, or at the very least to have portable trailered plumbed washrooms. We have a highly skilled membership, ready to do the work! It is high time our construction workers are afforded properly plumbed sanitation facilities; an undisputed, basic expectation for workers on any other worksite.

We fully support the findings and recommendations of the Report on Washroom Facilities in the Construction Industry and add our voices to the ongoing Building Trades Get Flushed campaign, which raises awareness of this important issue. A concurrent social media campaign dubbed “Pipe Up” has been undertaken by Local 170 to amplify the message. I urge all Building Trades members to add their support to these campaigns.

Unplumbed washrooms on construction sites have been allowed to become the rule rather than the exception, and it is time to demand change.

By Al Phillips