The self-proclaimed number onehome builder in Idaho received citations and fines from a federal agency this month for failing to provide adequate toilet facilities for workers at home construction sites.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency that helps assure the safety and health of all workers on the job, conducted an investigation into CBH Homes after some CBH workers said that their employer does not always provide them a place to go to the bathroom while on the job.
In a NewsChannel 7 investigation, no portable toilets were found at eleven different active CBH home construction sites in the Treasure Valley in early May.
When asked how often workers had access to portable toilets while at work, one construction worker said it was sporadic, at best. I d say probably more often than not [we would] not have them. Workers interviewed for this report requested that we not reveal their identities for fear of being black-balled from future construction jobs in the area.
By law, home builders like Corey Barton are required to provide adequate restroom facilities for their employees at new housing construction sites.
Absent portable toilets, workers were asked what they would do if they needed to use the restroom. One worker said, If a gas station is close enough and it's not too bad, we'll run to a gas station. But if we're in places where we can't...we'll just use a bottle or whatever and throw it in the trash when we're done.
They ll urinate in a corner of a house, or if they're doing the other (defecating), anywhere from in the boxes to crawl spaces, said another worker. I've seen a wide variety of things like that.
On the day after we started this investigation, we called OSHA to see if the accusations against CBH had merit. OSHA responded by launching it's own investigation. The very next day, portable toilets appeared at CBH work sites across the Treasure Valley. But evidence of improvised toilets, such as old soda bottles, were left behind.
Most of the time, when we go to insulate the houses, we usually find (urine-filled bottles) in between the walls, said another construction worker. They usually just shove them in there.
Following our interview, the worker pointed out a urine-filled bottle behind the house he was working on. The bottle, containing a yellow liquid, lay on the ground behind the house. I was opening the vents and there's one right on the back door, he said.
One worker who spends most of his work hours at CBH construction sites estimates he finds urine-filled bottles in one out of every four homes where portable toilets are not available.
Next door, one such bottle was found in a crawl space of the CBH home a woman is going to live in. NewsChannel 7 had the contents tested by Minert & Associates, a federally regulated drug-testing lab in Meridian. The lab confirmed that the liquid in the bottle was human urine. It also tested positive for marijuana.
This is probably the only chance I will ever get to build a house and to pick everything out and it's just been a long process, the woman said. We're almost to the end and then to find out this has gone on...I'm wondering what else have they done in our house?
The woman did not want her identity revealed at the time of our interview because she feared she would lose the home. She has since closed on the property and says she is happy with her purchase, but not before hiring someone to inspect the property with an ultraviolet light to make sure the home was sanitary.
Never would I have thought about this, she said. Now I wonder who else may be going through the same thing we're going through and not know it.
CBH owner responds
We asked CBH owner Corey Barton about the allegations. We absolutely provide toilets at the work site, he said. When told that some workers claimed Barton had gotten a reputation of not providing portable toilets he said: That is absolutely false. Absolutely false.
Evans: We went to the majority of the developments in the Valley,as well as one down in Mountain Home,and we did not see a single port-a-potty. How do you explain that? Barton: If there wasn't, there should be. And if there wasn't there was just a slight error on getting one there, or that there was one ordered and coming.
Barton said construction workers will turn a home into a makeshift bathroom, whether he provides a toilet on site or not. Workers interviewed during this investigation dispute that claim.
OSHA citations include fines
After concluding its investigation, OSHA determined that CBH was in violation of the law for not providing adequate toilets at two of its construction sites. CBH was fined $500 for each citation. Barton has until June 14 to either pay the fines or contest OSHA's ruling. As of May 26 OSHA s Boise office had not heard from Barton, according to the agency s regional director.
Barton: If there's a problem, we address it and take care of it.
Evans: So are you saying there was a problem?
Barton: When OSHA brought it to our attention they said they wanted more with the amount of workers that there are today we want this many toilets; and of course, we overkill.
Evans: To the homeowner (we interviewed earlier) and to every other homeowner out there, what do you say?Barton: We know that from time to time there are things that happen and mistakes that unfortunately happen, things that might get over looked, or accidents that happen. We don't condone that or think that's okay, but again we do have rules, requirements, and of course we're always in a constant state of learning, educating and trying to get better at every step, at every level.