Eby’s flushable toilets mandate a victory for workers’ health, respect: BC Building Trades

Journal of Commerce | Sarah Rowland | October 27, 2023

Premier David Eby’s recent announcement mandating flushable toilets on B.C. construction sites is a definite win for tradespeople.

The legal requirement, which is still being ironed out fully, will apply to sites with 25 workers or more.

The issue of unsanitary site conditions has been a topic of discussion among workers for over four decades, with little progress until now.

At the forefront of the discussion was BC Building Trades executive director Brynn Bourke, whose “Get Flushed” campaign garnered international attention and highlighted the issue.

The longstanding norm has been dire, with construction sites stipulating a minimal provision of only six porta-potties for every 100 workers, she explained.

Bourke underscores the workers’ daily plight, avoiding these facilities by any means necessary, including off-site restroom breaks.

“They go to the washroom before they go to work. They try to schedule their breaks so that they can go to a Tim Hortons or gas station. They’re doing everything they can not to use porta- potties,” she said.

However, the pandemic eradicated these options, compelling workers back to porta-potties and resulting in health complications such as urinary tract infections, Bourke adds.

This pressing issue catalyzed Bourke’s campaign to help the essential workers she says felt “expendable” during the pandemic.

“I think, you know, 10 years from now, we will look back and people will shake their heads that there was ever a time that we didn’t have these basic facilities,” she says.

Chris Atchison, president of British Columbia Construction Association, echoes Bourke’s sentiment on the importance of this move forward.

“I think what it’s telegraphing for the industry is one of expected dignity and respect for the workers who come to a project day in and day out, rain or shine,” he says adding, “so, we really see this as being a positive long game for the industry and it’s overdue.”

So, what’s the financial load of this shift?

Based on 2021 numbers, Bourke projects as little as one dollar per worker per day. However, Atchison points out the cost of flushable toilets is “a bit of a moving target,” dependent on supply dynamics and potential demand surges.

With that in mind, he emphasizes the necessity for clarity in expectations among contractors when budgeting for projects, ensuring uniformity in bids and understanding the operational shift’s nuances.

“It was a very high-level announcement,” Atchison says, referring to the new mandate and the many moving parts that need to be factored in during the implementation phase. “Contractors are supportive. They just want consistency across the board.”

Agreeing with Atchison, Bourke recognizes the complex journey ahead but is steadfast and optimistic.

Her focus is on ensuring a fair and smooth rollout post-announcement.

“We’ve taken a significant step forward,” Bourke asserts, committing herself to bringing “this to fruition in a way that works really well for everyone.”