BC Building Trades urges WorkSafeBC to require ‘dignified’ sanitary site bathrooms

Journal of Commerce | Russell Hixson | April 26, 2021

Armed with new research, the BC Building Trades is on a mission to improve bathroom facilities for the province’s construction workers.

A comprehensive study produced by Harwood Safety Group for the Building Trades examined current laws and practices around washroom accommodations for construction sites. The report concluded that non-plumbed washrooms are “wholly inadequate in terms of providing readily accessible, safe, hand hygiene and washing facilities, sufficient illumination, and consistent clean and sanitary conditions overall.”

Brynn Bourke, interim executive director for the BC Building Trades, explained the issue of jobsite bathrooms has been brought up by members and at the bargaining table for years, but the pandemic has forced the issue of sanitation and hygiene to the forefront.

“When the pandemic came, this was all was made more acute,” said Bourke. “Members talked about not wanting to use the bathrooms and developed urinary tract infections. We want to do a course correct. It has been so bad for so long.”

The group committed to going through current laws and practices to remind the industry of workers’ rights. Bourke said they found substantial evidence that using flush toilets would dramatically increase comfort and sanitation at a reasonable cost.

Bourke said their research found portable toilets are put wherever is convenient for pump trucks instead of near handwashing stations, are cleaned once a week on average and that cleaning involves simply emptying out waste and hosing them down.

“There should be cleaning schedules, a deep clean every night, lighting, heating. There is a mile of daylight between what is and what should be,” said Bourke.

She added not only do affordable options exist that provide flushing toilets with all these options, they are already used on many sites for higher level employees, like managers, creating a two-tiered system.

The paper noted the United Kingdom and parts of Australia already require the use of flushing toilets whenever possible, but this standard has not been properly applied in B.C.

The paper also noted that improving bathroom facilities could help with recruiting new people to the industry, especially unrepresented groups like women.

“Clean women’s washrooms on site may not seem like a major hurdle to most people, but when you’re a woman or someone who has experience as a woman, things can be a little different,” said one female insulator who was interviewed for the research paper. “Many people have experienced having nowhere to properly wash their hands prior to playing bathroom Jenga in a washroom with human waste on the ground.”

To determine the affordability of plumbed bathroom services, the BC Building Trades sought three quotes from portable trailer providers and requested the cost for providing these facilities to a site with 100 construction workers over a six-month build.

“We found it costs as little as $1 a day per worker to ensure protection from biological hazards,” said Bourke.

The paper concluded that affordable, practical plumbed bathroom facility solutions exist, leaving little excuse to not use them.

The researchers also stated that B.C. laws already require plumped washrooms for sites when practical, but employers have used a broad definition of “when practical” to avoid them.

“Construction workers should be afforded this most basic element of workplace hygiene to help ensure both their personal dignity and their health and safety at work,” reads the paper.

Bourke encouraged the industry to visit the Building Trades’ #GetFlushed campaign website at getflushed.ca so they can sign a petition, share their stories, read the research paper and urge WorkSafeBC to make changes.