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Drinking water - the US Law

Drinking water - the US Law

Are water breaks or trips to the water cooler hurting the productivity of your workplace?

Harvard Medical School underline the importance of hydration and have found sipping water throughout the day keeps the body and brain functioning at its best. With the world becoming more competitive, the performance of employees is an increasingly important issue. As an employer, you must provide the necessary tools and training for your employees and taking performance to the next level could be as simple as providing easy access to great drinking water.

How the law provides for necessities

The US Department of Labor states that every employer across the US must provide drinking water. Specifically, the drinking water must:

  • Be in accordance with public health standards
  • Come from a drinking fountain, covered container, or single-use bottle

Many employers may ask whether workers can fetch water from a tap in the restroom. However, it's important to note a drinking fountain is a water outlet that is specifically intended for drinking water only. Thus, a sink or hand basin would not meet the requirement for a drinking fountain as laid down by OSHA. In addition, there are areas of the United States where tap water does not meet the drinking water standards.

When drinking water isn't allowed in the workplace

Healthcare workers are in an unusual position. Even bottles with lids may become contaminated when handled – and rules regarding exposure to blood borne pathogens may prompt employers to be safe. Employees working in areas where exposure to hazardous or toxic chemicals is possible may also be subjected to a workstation water-drinking ban; and sometimes, employers forbid eating or drinking at workstations because they fear it may detract from the image they are trying to project.

In these instances, OSHA recommends regular, formalized water breaks alongside refreshment breaks. The regularity of the water breaks could be based on individual workplace conditions; but it’s safe to say that if employees are feeling thirsty, they’re already dehydrated.

My office is without water today. Should I still be in work?

A disruption in the water supply is a serious health and safety issue. In the first place, employees are entitled to clean washroom facilities – if toilets can’t flush and you can’t wash your hands; hygiene goes out the window. It’s up to the employer to provide an alternative or risk the consequences of non-compliance with employment law.

It’s just as important to have access to drinking water – and if office water fountains or water coolers aren’t working, the alternative is bottled water supplied at the employer’s expense. Admittedly, employers can turn a blind eye but ignoring the basic needs of employees can become problematic.

Where can SMEs and large organizations look for more advice?

Although you should be able to get answers to specific questions, your business can request a free health and safety consultation and OSHA provides a valuable service through its consultations. Their purpose is to identify workplace risks and to make recommendations that will help you to become compliant with legislation. The advantage of choosing this route is that you are able to find out what OSHA thinks you should do before there any formal complaints. Ultimately, this can save you covering the costs of litigation and the expense of penalties.

Larger organizations are required to have trained health and safety representatives, and should understand the requirements for workplace drinking water and other facilities. If there are any areas which they consider unclear, they will be able to consult their training provider or address questions to OSHA directly.

Workplace drinking water - Go beyond the minimum

Providing clean drinking water from a source dedicated to drinking water supply is the bare minimum required by US law.

When employers don’t follow these requirements, they open themselves to legal action, risk workplace dissatisfaction and high staff turnover. Encourage your staff to drink cool, clean water and enjoy the benefits of a motivated, hydrated workforce. You can make this a reality with a bottleless water cooler and its advanced filtration system.