The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, regulates different aspects of workplace safety in a myriad of different industries. OSHA maintains certain regulations that even pertain to restrooms in the workplace.
Basic OSHA Restroom Requirements
Pursuant to OSHA standards, an employer must maintain restrooms for workers in a sanitary condition. As part of making a restroom sanitary and accessible, the restroom must contain hot and cold running water. It must also have hand soap or a similar type of appropriate cleaning agent. A worker’s restroom must provide warm air blowers or individual hand towels. The hand towels can be made out of paper or cloth. If cloth, they can only be used one time.
Waterless hand cleaner is not an acceptable substitute in a worker’s restroom. Shared towels or rags are also not acceptable in a worker’s restroom.
An issue arises when it comes to restroom or toilet facilities located at a construction site. With this noted, workers at construction sites must be furnished with sanitary toilet facilities. A text was specifically designed for women in the construction industry. It has become the accepted guide for people of both sexes when it comes to toilet facilities and sanitary issues at a construction site. The text is entitled Portable Toilet and Sanitation Best Practices for Women in Construction and was created by the National Association of Women in Construction Alliance product, Portable Toilet and Sanitation Best Practices for Women in Construction.
Ensuring Workers have Accessible Restrooms
Employers must ensure that a minimum number of toilet facilities are present in the workplace. OSHA does mandate that toilet facilities be separates by gender. OSHA standards permit restrooms that accommodate multiple people at one time by specific gender. The standards also permit solo-use restrooms that can be used by any gender on an one at a time basis.
Determining what is an appropriate number of toilet facilities depends on the number of workers and any special needs that specific workers may have in regard to toilet use. This includes physical handicaps and health conditions. (The American with Disabilities Act also comes into play when it comes to restroom and different issues in the workplace.)
OSHA continues to release specific letters of interpretation when it comes to restroom guidelines in the workplace. These letters of interpretation have been disseminated over the course of the past 20 years and can be readily accessed online at the OSHA website.
Some of the issues addressed in the OSHA letters of interpretation include:
- Addressing the need to provide an adequate number of restrooms for the size of the workforce to prevent long lines
- Prohibition against imposing unreasonable restrictions on restroom use
- Addressing access restrictions, such as locking doors or requiring workers to sign out a key
- Permit workers to leave work locations to use a restroom when needed
Examples of Specific OSHA Restroom Standards and Guidelines
Employers need to have flexibility when it comes to the development of procedures associated with restrooms in the workplace. For example, employers that utilize mobile workers need to ensure that readily available transportation is available to ensure that prompt access to restroom facilities is ensured. Generally speaking, prompt access is defined as less than 10 minutes.
OSHA has even developed restroom standards and guidelines for farm workers. For example, toilet facilities for farm workers cannot be more than a quarter of a mile from the location where a worker is working.
If a work situation necessitates constant coverage, employers can implement a restroom relief system in which a worker can request relief provided their is sufficient coverage. A production line worker is an example of one who would fall into this category. Bus drivers are another example.
Contact with OSHA
If a workplace appears to not be in compliance with standards associated with restroom facilities for workers, that individual can reach out to OSHA. Contact can be made with the agency through the OSHA website, by calling the agency, or by reaching out to a local or regional OSHA office. The website provides solid information on how to connect with the agency with a workplace compliance issue.
When OSHA receives a complaint or inquiry like this, the agency is likely to dispatch a representative to the workplace to take a look at and examine the situation. The agency initially will work with an employer to assist in gaining compliance. The agency is able to take further action if an employer elects not to take action regarding restroom facilities for workers.
Jessica Kane writes for Advance Online, a leading provider of web-based OSHA. DOT. and HAZWOPER training.