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Champlain Bridge builders must provide clean toilets for workers: safety board

A violation notice was issued this week by Quebec's workplace safety board and the consortium Signature on the St. Lawrence was given until Friday to make sure there are enough portable toilets on the construction site and that they have lighting, are heated, and clean. Philippe Lapointe/HO/The Canadian Press

The workers building the new $4.2-billion Champlain Bridge toil in difficult conditions, high above the St. Lawrence River. But one of their biggest challenges has been to find a clean — and heated — portable toilet on the work site.

Quebec’s workplace safety board this week issued a violation notice giving the consortium building the bridge until Friday to make sure there are enough portable toilets on the site and that they have lighting, heating and are clean.

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“We’ve had trouble for a long time with toilets on work sites, especially during the winter” said Simon Lévesque, who is responsible for health and safety for the construction wing of the Quebec Federation of Labour. The union provided photos showing filthy toilets on the site.

Lévesque pointed to a regulation in place since 2015 that requires sites with 25 workers or more to have flushable toilets that are heated to 20 C.

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Lévesque acknowledged that there are some proper facilities on the Champlain Bridge site that conform and are clean, but there are also a lot of chemical toilets that do not respect the regulations.

“Workers have to use them, because the installations that conform to the regulation are too far, and they have to walk for 30 minutes to find one,” Lévesque said.

He complained that some of the chemical toilets have been blown over by the wind “with the liquid and everything, and they were put back up and left there without being cleaned.”

Julie Robitaille, a spokeswoman for the workplace safety board, said an inspector visited the Champlain bridge site Wednesday and gave the consortium, Signature on the St. Lawrence, two days to fix the toilet problems.

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An official for the bridge consortium said Friday the problems have been “amplified by the sudden arrival of the cold” in November.

“We take the notice seriously and have made corrections, regarding the cleaning, lighting and heating,” Annie-Claire Fournier said.

She said there are enough toilets on the various working platforms and they will be better located to facilitate workers’ access.

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Lévesque said the Champlain Bridge gets a lot of attention because it’s a major project with 1,500 workers, but the same problem exists on other construction sites.

“I’ve been in construction since 1993, and I’ve heard workers who have been asking since then for at least a minimum of heated toilets,” he said.

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