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Staff washrooms

02 June 2005
Staff washrooms

The problem The Smiths run a successful two-star, 20-bedroom hotel in the West Country, ploughing back profits into upgrading guest facilities to enhance its growing reputation. But the cost of improving the public areas has meant skimping on staff facilities - and that means the Smiths are contravening new laws.

The Law
Under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations, companies are required to have suitable means for the disposal of sanitary dressings in water closets used by women. This regulation is further supported by the Water Industries Act 1991, which states that no items should be flushed that could cause a blockage within the sewer or drain. In addition, the Environmental Protection Act places a legal "duty of care" upon companies to ensure that all waste produced on their premises is correctly managed right up to the point of final disposal.

Expert Advice
Small companies could face prosecution if they fail to provide appropriate washroom facilities for their employees. They could also face prosecution under the Environmental Protection Act for failing to dispose of washroom waste properly.

This is a very delicate business, and many company managers may not even be aware that they are breaking the law because, quite naturally, they have never ventured inside a ladies' toilet. And many women are just too embarrassed to raise the issue of tampon disposal with their management. But the reality is that many companies could be breaking the law by not addressing the issue.

Our collective responsibility for the environment is something we all should take seriously, and businesses should be clear about the role we can play in creating a cleaner and safer environment.

It may be surprising to learn that many sanitary items marked "disposable" are, in fact, not disposable at all; and that, contrary to popular belief, sanitary items should never be flushed down the toilet, because a tampon takes six months to biodegrade and a plastic sanitary towel liner lasts indefinitely.

Check List
Requirements under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations include:

  • Air freshening and fragrancing - "Means should be taken to prevent odours from lingering in and from entering into other rooms."
  • Air-cleaning units - "Rest rooms and rest areas shall include suitable arrangements to protect non-smokers from the discomfort caused by tobacco smoke."
  • Soap dispensing - companies have a legal obligation to provide hand-cleaning facilities in their washrooms.
  • Warm-air hand and face dryers - companies are required by law to provide hand-drying facilities in their washrooms and they "must include towels or other suitable means of drying".
  • Paper systems - not only do companies have an obligation to provide hand-drying facilities but also, in the case of water closets, "Toilet paper in a holder or dispenser… should be provided."
  • Companies now face criminal prosecution under the Environmental Protection Act unless they take all reasonable steps to ensure that:
    Their waste disposal contractors are registered waste carriers.
  • Final disposal is carried out according to the legal requirements, and at a licensed landfill or incineration facility.
  • The waste contractors have comprehensive and efficient tracking and monitoring systems in place to ensure that all waste is tracked, accounted for, and disposed of correctly and safely.
  • A full audit trail of documentation is in place.

Failure to comply with the new regulations could be an extremely costly oversight. Indeed, a breach of the duty of care is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine of up to £2,000 on summary conviction, or an unlimited fine on conviction or indictment.

Geoff Young, Sanity Group
Tel: 0113 265 6377

Information on the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations and the Environmental Protection Act is available at www.hmso.gov.uk/acts.htm

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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