Construction sites land in the shit over “no-go zone” dunnies

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
5 Min Read

Dozens of South Australian job sites have landed in the shit with the state’s health and safety regulator after a crackdown into the industry’s disgusting dunnies.

A nine-month investigation saw SafeWork South Australia dump legal cautions on more than 160 building sites across greater Adelaide for the state of their toilet facilities.

The filthy loos were labelled “no-go zones” by the health and safety watchdog, which has lifted the lid on the industry’s failure to provide clean and hygienic restroom amenities.

Investigators plunged job sites to flush out portaloo health hazards, finding two-thirds were missing soap, half had no bins, and 40 per cent had little or no toilet paper.

More than a dozen even failed to provide a toilet at all.

Two-thirds of work-site washrooms a filthy failure

Official figures from July onwards last year show almost two-thirds of residential construction sites failed the snap audits that breached new industry guidelines published in March 2023, leading to 103 toilet-related “improvement notices”.

Meanwhile, SafeWork has already pulled the chain on another 54 legally enforceable notices this year. 

SafeWork SA executive director Glenn Farrell says the clampdown showed that the condition of job-site toilets had hit the skids, describing the findings as “extremely disappointing”.

“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,” he said.

“A safe construction site starts with the fundamentals of having a clean toilet, equipped with the necessary facilities to accommodate all who use them.”

Mr Farell also poo-pooed the number of job sites that failed to provide toilet facilities, which some officials have described as a fundamental human right.

“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,” he said.

Shitty statistics behind SA’s portaloo problem:

  • 66% of job sites failed the audit.
  • 66% with little or no soap.
  • 50% had no bin.
  • 40% had a lack of toilet paper.
  • 66% had a lack of paper towels.
  • 40% were not clean.
  • 1 in 10 lacked safe access.
  • Most sites did not have female sanitary bins.
  • More than 12 job sites had no toilet facilities.
Wood blocks were used to stop filthy loo seats from contacting builders’ bums

The conditions, or lack of loos on some Adelaide job sites, were so bad that some workers preferred to take a 20-minute drive to find a place to go.

Meanwhile, some tradies said they had fought against the dunny disasters by using slabs, bricks or wood to avoid direct contact with the toilet seat.

The situation was even worse for female workers, with almost no sites inspected found to have female sanitary bins or gender-specific facilities. 

Masters Builders Association chief executive officer, Will Frogley, says flushing away the shitty standards would be essential if the industry wanted to solve its tradie shortage. 

“Our industry badly needs more women on sites to fill our labour shortage,” he said.

“It’s really important they feel welcome on site, and that includes having access to suitable hygiene facilities.”

The South Australian building industry has long been constipated with toilet troubles, with more than 382 toilet complaints made to SafeWork SA in the decade prior to 2022.

Communications Electrical Plumbing Union SA branch secretary John Adley said it was time for employers to “get their act together”.

“Employers in the building industry tell us that they have trouble attracting and retaining workers,” he said.

“Getting the basics right would be a good start to addressing these problems.”

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.