Building regulators push back on new health risk

8 April 2020

Australia’s state and territory building regulators have come together to try and prevent a public health risk from starting in Australia’s bathrooms.

Householders seeking a DIY solution to a toilet paper shortage through ‘alternative toileting devices’ such as bidets and douches could be putting themselves and their family at risk.

The Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) has today issued a Public Warning about this, and its partners on the national Building Regulators’ Forum (BRF) are also preparing to release warnings on this issue.

QBCC Commissioner Brett Bassett said that incorrectly installed devices could increase the risk of contaminating water supplies with E. coli bacteria, and E. coli infections posed serious risks to health and safety.

“If you’re not a licensed plumber, it’s illegal to do plumbing work, and if you do, you can’t guarantee that your family’s health and your own health is protected,” Mr Bassett said.

“E. coli is a serious health risk. Alternative toileting devices must have an appropriate backflow prevention device in order for you to be protected against a contaminated drinking water supply.”

Mr Bassett said that the only way to ensure backflow prevention devices were fitted correctly is if they were installed by someone with a QBCC licence.

“According to the current Queensland Government health directives, the construction industry is an essential service, which means that as long as hygiene and social distancing rules are followed, there is no reason not to get professionals in to make sure bidets are fitted safely.

“The last thing we need right now is to put unnecessary strain on our health systems.”

In the past month, Google searches in Australia for the term ‘bidets’ have increased tenfold, in the wake of articles promoting alternative toileting devices and providing advice on their installation. 

As a result, Australian building regulators are urgently reminding home owners, building contractors and suppliers that these products must comply with Australian Standards and be installed by an appropriately licensed person.

Under Queensland’s tough non-conforming building products law, every member of the construction industry supply chain, including manufacturers, distributors and installers, must ensure the product they manufacture, supply or install is compliant, or risk signficant penalties.  

Mr Bassett said it was pleasing that all BRF members had united to raise awareness about this potential public health issue. 

“We’re thrilled with this level of co-operation between the state regulators. It’s what the BRF was set up to achieve, and it’s what the public would expect from us,” Mr Bassett said.

The South Australian Office of the Technical Regulator said that when consumers are looking to install alternative toileting/plumbing fixtures such as flexible douche hoses or bidet douches they must ensure that it’s done professionally and lawfully.

“Some manufacturers’ instructions supplied with bidet douche seat products conflict with the cross connection control requirements of the Plumbing Code of Australia,” Technical Regulator Rob Faunt said.

“In South Australia, if anyone plans on installing an alternative toileting device, such as flexible douche hoses or bidets, they must always use a license plumber to perform the plumbing work,” Mr Faunt said.

“Property owners should also ensure that only WaterMark Certified plumbing products are installed in their property, and make sure they talk with their plumber about whether there is a requirement to fit a backflow prevention device to prevent contamination of the drinking water supply from faeces in the toilet.”

At Western Australia’s plumbing regulator, Building and Energy Executive Director Saj Abdoolakhan also reminded consumers not to flush paper towels or wipes down the toilet.

“Toilet paper is designed to be flushed, but heavier paper or wipes can cause expensive and inconvenient blockages at your home or gridlock of the wider sewage system,” Mr Abdoolakhan said.

“In NSW, if a homeowner purchases bidets and douches they are to ensure they are installed by a licensed plumber regardless of the cost of the work. Technical information for licensed persons in the NSW plumbing and drainage industry can be found on the NSW Fair Trading website.”

Meanwhile, the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) is concerned by recent media coverage indicating that residents are assembling and installing these devices in their bathrooms and toilets.

The VBA is preparing online advice to inform consumers that a registered or licensed plumber must install these devices to prevent serious health risks from sewerage contaminating the drinking water supply. The Authority will also write to major retailers requesting they post notices next to product displays to warn consumers of the health risks and the need for an appropriately qualified plumber to install these products.

The BRF has also sought and welcomed assistance from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in taking action on this issue.

The QBCC has urged anyone who has recently installed an alternative toileting device to check with a licensed plumber if they are uncertain whether the device is compliant.

Current Queensland Government health directives advise that the construction industry is an essential service, and workers are exempt from the two-person rule when entering homes or private premises. Where the appropriate social distancing and hygiene requirements are in place, there is no reason to exclude plumbers or tradies from your home or property.

Consumers can confirm if an installer is properly licensed by conducting a free online licence search on the QBCC website or by contacting the QBCC on 139 333.

Alternative toileting devices require WaterMark certification for compliance with relevant Australian Standards. This is either marked on the product itself, or consumers can check products on the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) website.

Contact: 

139 333