FAQs regarding toilets under the sanitation standard
Date Posted: 04/11/2022
The OSHA standard on sanitation at 1910.141 doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it has generated a lot of questions over the years, with a surprising number involving access to toilets. According to OSHA, employers must:
- Allow workers to use a restroom when needed.
- Provide an adequate number of restrooms for the workforce.
- Avoid imposing unreasonable restrictions on restroom use that may cause extended delays.
Of course, employers must maintain restrooms in a sanitary condition. In addition, employers must provide hot and cold running water (or lukewarm water), hand soap or similar cleansing agents, and warm air blowers or individual hand towels (paper or cloth).
OSHA notes that adverse health hazards can occur when toilets and adequate washing facilities are not available. The regulation does not specify a travel distance or location requirement for toilets. Instead, employers should use reasonable judgment in choosing the location.
OSHA did address a construction employer’s question on whether toilets in an unsanitary condition could be counted toward the required number of facilities. OSHA said no, clarifying that toilets which are unsanitary will not be considered “available” for employees.
Renovation work might make toilets temporarily unavailable. In addition, flush toilets and running water won’t be an option at many construction sites. In those cases, employers may provide portable toilets. These do not meet the intent of the standard, however, and may be given a de minimis violation (no fines issued).
As noted, lack of facilities can cause health problems, but OSHA recognizes that running water systems may not be possible in all situations. Still, OSHA would require that the portable toilets:
- Are readily accessible;
- Have adequate lighting, are secure, and have heating as necessary; and
- Are well-maintained and properly serviced.
In addition, even where portable toilets are provided, employees must be able to wash their hands. OSHA has clarified that waterless hand cleaner and towels or rags are not adequate substitutes for soap and water.
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