Welfare at Work: Guidance for Employers

Construction By Matthew Coombes

Every workplace within the UK, whether fixed or temporary is required by The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 to provide adequate welfare facilities for those working on the site/premises.

The welfare facilities provided will depend a lot on the context of the situation and the organisation. The UK law tends to refer to requirements to provide welfare facilities as ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’.

What does so far as reasonably practicable mean?

The term reasonably practicable means something that is realistically achievable within the scope of the work being carried out, the environment that it is in, and the company requesting the work to be carried out.

The legislation and accompanying guidance is very clear on what is expected of an employer, and taking a look at the requirement to provide toilet and washing facilities you can begin to understand reasonably practicable.

The guidance for The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992) expects you to:
Provide:

  • Enough toilets and washbasins for those using them
  • Separate facilities for men and women where possible, or lockable rooms
  • Clean facilities
  • A supply of toilet paper and means of disposing of sanitary dressings
  • Well-lit and well-ventilated facilities
  • Hot and cold running water
  • Soap or equivalent washing agents
  • A large basin for washing hands and forearms if necessary
  • A means of drying hands
  • Showers where necessary

Example:
A small company working to tarmac and pave a walkway through a nature reserve and resurface its car park would be likely to encounter problems in providing adequate toilet and washing facilities such as:

Issue Action
No existing toilets The company may have to hire chemical toilets in for the duration of the work
No running water or waste water pipes The company may need to hire waste tanks and water containers
No hot water The company may need to hire Hot Wash Portable Toilets which require a competent electrician to connect
A large site to cover There may be difficulty providing enough toilets to cover the site
A long drive to the working area It may be more expensive to hire equipment out into the middle of nowhere
Poor lighting Lighting will need to be provided in and outside of the toilets
No electricity on site for hot water and lighting The company may need to hire a generator


All of these facilities have a hire cost, and while individually they may not break the bank, the combination of multiple hires, mileage to the site, and the duration of the hire requirement could become too expensive for the small company to manage.

Therefore, instead of opting for hot wash toilets, they may instead just hire chemical toilets and water containers.

Applying health and safety legislation to welfare

While aspects of welfare such as the temperature of the working environment can be subjective, access to toilets and washing facilities is often a serious health and safety concern. There is a legal duty under the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1992 to produce and act upon a risk assessment for any work undertaken.

This risk assessment should have identified any work that may require the provision of hot water and soap as a control measure. For example, workers can get chemical burns from liquid cement exposure and washing facilities may be an adequate way of reducing risk.

When working with hand tools, cuts and open injuries can happen and it is important to wash any dirt or bacteria out of the wound to reduce the likelihood of infection.

Mental health and human factors

Poor welfare facilities which are not clean or not suitable for use can have an immediate negative impact on our mood, and it can be frustrating waiting in line to use the only chemical toilet on site with 60 other workers.

When welfare facilities are not adequate on site this negative mood can quickly become a culture of negativity on site, tensions may rise and attitudes towards the employer, other workers and the job can change. This conflict is not good for mental health and wellbeing of those on site and poor working relationships can negatively impact safety on site.

Once people stop caring about the job, they often stop caring about health and safety of themselves and others on site, leading to an incident or accident occurring. If an accident or incident occurs, the costs associated with this will often greatly outweigh the costs of providing adequate welfare facilities.

It is important for leadership to take a stance on providing adequate facilities on site and it is stated very well in the Welfare at work Guidance:

“Would you be happy to use the welfare facilities you provide for your employees?”

The law also requires that employers provide drinking water which is free from contamination, accessible by all employees and in good supply. Failure to provide clean drinking water is not just a breach of The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, it is also likely to be a breach of The Health and Safety At Work Act 1974, as exposure to contaminated water can be significantly harmful to health.


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