Residential construction companies warned over unhygienic portable toilets

A snap inspection by SafeWork SA of portable toilets on residential construction sites has found most were unclean, unhygienic or lacked basic amenities – turning them into no-go zones for workers.

The regulator audited 168 residential building sites in metropolitan Adelaide over a six-month period, issuing builders with 103 toilet-related improvement notices.

A total of 90 residential construction sites either did not provide clean, hygienic or conveniently-located toilets with a further 13 of those sites failing to even provide a toilet (a breach of an employer’s obligation to construction industry workers).

Of the 90 sites that were non-compliant, the audit found:

  • 93 per cent did not have a sanitary bin for women.
  • 67 per cent had an inadequate supply of paper towels.
  • 64 per cent had little or no soap provided.
  • 49 per cent failed to have a bin.
  • 43 per cent had little or no toilet paper.
  • 39 per cent were not regularly cleaned.
  • 10 per cent were not located in a secure place with safe access.

Some toilets were so filthy that workers resorted to balancing on bricks or wooden blocks to avoid direct contact with the seat.

The audit, conducted between July and December last year, formed part of a broader SafeWork SA campaign around managing the risk of falls on residential construction sites.

SafeWork SA inspectors used the opportunity to audit onsite toilets in support of a Communications Electrical Plumbing Union (CEPU) and Electrical Trades Union national campaign to ensure worksites had accessible toilets.

So far this year, SafeWork SA has issued a further 54 improvement notices relating to toilets. About 49 of these toilets were on construction sites with residential construction accounting for 88 per cent of these non-compliances.

In March last year, SafeWork SA published new guidelines on toilet facilities at construction sites in collaboration with South Australian branches the CEPU, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, Master Builders and Civil Contractors Federation.

At the time, SafeWork SA advised industry that they had received 765 complaints associated with toilets over the previous 10 years, with the construction industry accounting for 42 per cent of gripes.

Portable toilets must be maintained and serviced in a hygienic way to minimise the risk of infections and disease for workers and others that may use them, said SafeWork SA executive director, Glenn Farrell.

“Over nine months, we’ve issued 157 improvement notices for unclean or poorly maintained toilets on construction sites, which is extremely disappointing,” he said.

“If the builder has a blatant disregard for suitable toilet facilities supplied to workers, there’s a good chance that other standards and safety performance on site are compromised.”