Bathroom Business: OSHA’s Restroom Rules

By Roy Maurer May 25, 2015
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Do you have enough toilets in your workplace? What condition are they in? Are your bathroom break policies too restrictive?

It’s important to know, because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates the availability of and workers’ access to restroom facilities.

OSHA’s sanitation standard “is intended to ensure that employers provide employees with sanitary and available toilet facilities, so that employees will not suffer the adverse health effects that can result if toilets are not available when employees need them.” These rules ensure that all workplace bathrooms remain safe, sanitary and easily accessible. Here’s a quick rundown:

Availability. Toilet facilities must be available at every worksite, with mobile worksites being the exception. Employees in mobile work crews must have transportation readily available to toilet facilities “nearby,” however, and agricultural workers must have toilet and hand-washing facilities within a quarter-mile of the worksite.

Employees must have reasonable access to a bathroom facility. According to an April 6, 1998, OSHA memorandum, the standard mandates that “employers allow employees prompt access to bathroom facilities,” and that “restrictions on access must be reasonable, and may not cause extended delays.” Employers should also carefully consider restrictions for employees with certain medical conditions such as prostate and bladder control issues, and pregnancy, when dealing with bathroom breaks, as the Americans with Disabilities Act might require extended or more frequent breaks as a reasonable accommodation. Restrooms must be easily accessible to employees with physical disabilities.

The issue of employees remaining on or off the clock when using the bathroom is not addressed.

For certain occupations, such as assembly line work, where a bathroom break may disrupt the workflow, a relief system is advised, where a worker would signal for a temporary replacement and the employer must ensure that relief workers are available.

Quantity. The number of toilets required is determined by the number of employees at the worksite. Companies with 15 or fewer employees are required to offer only one unisex bathroom and toilet with a locking door. From there OSHA requires as a minimum:

  • Two toilets for 16 to 35 employees.
  • Three toilets for 36 to 55 employees.
  • Four toilets for 56 to 80 employees.
  • Five toilets for 81 to 110 employees.
  • Six toilets for 111 to 150 employees.
  • One additional toilet for every 40 employees over 150. For example, a company with 400 employees would need to provide 13 toilets.

Allocation. OSHA requires that employers provide gender-segregated facilities for workforces over 15 employees that contain men and women, and bathrooms must be designated as being for male or female use unless they can be occupied by no more than one person and can be locked from the inside.

Design. Each toilet must be in a separate compartment, with a door, and must be separated from the next by partitions sufficiently high to assure privacy. Urinals are allowed but do not count toward the minimum number of toilets. In the case of male-only facilities, the number of urinals can be increased as long as the number of toilets does not fall below two-thirds of the number specified in the standard.

Hand-washing. Hand-washing facilities must be provided and maintained in a sanitary condition. All restrooms are required to have running water, soap and hand towels or air dryers.

And just in case you’ve got workers snacking on bathroom breaks, OSHA states that “no employee shall be allowed to consume food or beverages in a toilet room,” and also that food or beverages cannot be stored in restrooms.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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