To comply with UK health, safety, and welfare legislation, employers must provide certain workplace facilities for their employees. Consideration has to be given to toilet, hand washing, and changing facilities, as well as the consumption of food and drink, and provision of rest areas.
The Workplace (Health, Safety, and Welfare) Regulations, 1992, set out the minimum standards in this respect and apply to the majority of businesses in the UK. An employer’s obligations in some areas of workplace welfare are based on the number of people they employ, so let’s take a look at this area first.
Employers’ legal duties with regard to welfare facilities
Toilet and washing facilities
Employers need to provide a minimum number of readily accessible toilets and wash basins depending on how many members of staff they employ. Toilets must be adequately lit and well ventilated, with the provision of soap, hot and cold running water, and hand drying facilities, such as an electric dryer or paper towels, being obligatory.
Male and female employees should have separate toilet facilities if possible, but if not, each toilet must be located in a separate room that is lockable. Here are the requirements in terms of mixed use or women only facilities, as an example:
- 1-5 employees – one toilet and one washbasin
- 6-25 employees – two toilets and washbasins
- 26-50 employees – three toilets and washbasins
- 51-75 employees – four toilets and washbasins
- 76-100 employees – five toilets and washbasins
Consideration also needs to be given to employees working remotely, at temporary sites, or where there is no water supply. In these cases, portable toilets and suitable water containers should be provided.
Changing facilities at work
Employees in some businesses may need to change and store their work wear or uniforms, in which case employers must provide suitable facilities. A sufficient number of separate, private changing rooms have to be available for men and women, plus additional space in which to dry dirty or wet clothing. Showering facilities are also needed if workers deal with hazardous materials, or if their work is otherwise arduous or unhygienic.
A staff restroom should be provided if practical, with space to eat meals and access clean drinking water. If there is no public water supply, a drinking fountain may suffice, or cups and bottled water from a dispenser. Employers also need to offer a kettle to make hot drinks and facilities to heat food if there is no canteen – this could be in the form of a microwave.
Facilities within the working environment
A number of welfare areas could potentially affect staff when considering their immediate working environment.
The quality of office furniture including chairs, desks, and computer workstations, is important to ensure employee comfort and wellbeing at work. Seating needs to provide support where needed, but particularly in the lower back area.
Regular risk assessments should be carried out to make sure workers aren’t suffering ongoing physical discomfort whilst seated – extra facilities such as footplates or additional back support may be required if so.
Lighting levels must be such that employees and visitors can move around the working environment easily and safely. Additional lighting may be required for workers carrying out computer-related tasks, with electric lighting often providing a boost to natural light where needed.
Facilities for vulnerable workers
Pregnant and nursing mothers
Employers of pregnant and nursing mothers must legally provide rest facilities, potentially including an area in which to lie down if needed. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, 1999, state any new risks regarding workers who are pregnant, or new mothers, must be identified and managed as part of the overall employee risk assessment process.
Facilities for disabled employees
Facilities for employees with a disability could include ramps, audio-visual fire alarm systems, disabled toilet facilities, and adjusted workstations. Under the Equality Act, 2010, employers are obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to assist disabled employees – the definition of ‘reasonable’ being influenced by the size and type of the business concerned.
Ensuring a disabled worker is able to fulfil their role in the same way a non-disabled person is a key issue, but this might simply involve creating wider access routes around the building, or allowing a wheelchair user to work on the ground floor.
The Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974, introduced the legal duty for employers to provide certain workplace facilities for their staff, but the welfare legislation that followed ensured employees benefitted by further detailing employer obligations.
Giving careful consideration to the health and welfare of staff not only enables employers to meet their legal obligations, but also allows for a comfortable environment in which their staff can thrive and feel valued.
Written by Keith Tully; partner at Real Business Rescue, part of Begbies Traynor Group plc. Keith has more than 25 years’ experience advising company directors on issues regarding insolvency, finance, and staff welfare.