Jane Williams is a Scottsdale,  Ariz.-based safety consultant who has been trying to clean up U.S. construction sites for more than a decade. She is seeking changes in standards that would lead to revised U.S. regulations increasing the ratio of available toilets to workers and improving wash-ups where possible. Lately, she has made some gains that could force contractors to adjust.

The current U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard requires one toilet for every 20 workers; one toilet seat and one urinal per 40 workers on sites employing more than 20 and one toilet seat and one urinal for every 50 workers where 200 or more workers are present. The same standard provides for wash-up sinks, potable water and general cleanliness.

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  • Sanitation advocates say the number of toilets per worker is too low and enforcement of the existing standard is lax. Clean-out frequency, says Williams, should be based on the number of people using a toilet. Portable toilets rent at about $80 to $100 per month with a weekly clean-out.

    In the last few years, a subgroup of an American National Standards Institute committee, chaired by Williams, drafted a new standard calling for one toilet per every 10 workers. It was based partly on language from the OSHA Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health that had been approved earlier. But the ANSI standard failed to advance in its committee over handwashing rules and is being re-drafted. Meanwhile, OSHA never adopted the ACCSH language because of the Bush administration’s freeze on new regulations.

    But last May, Russell B. Swanson, director of OSHA’s construction directorate, issued an important letter. Swanson wrote that toilets that are unsanitary are unusuable and therefore not “available” to workers and would not meet OSHA regulations. He also indicated that clean-out frequency should depend on the number of users.

    “This is an incredible shift in position for OSHA,” says Williams. Whether it will make a difference is unclear, but it is the biggest change in years in an area that is often ignored.