The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) is the foundation on which legislative and administrative measures for improving occupational health and safety are created. This Act lays out key principles—this includes duties and rights—relating to workplace health and safety in Victoria. Under this act are eight compliance codes, which help in providing practical guidance especially for employers. Of the eight, we will be tackling the compliance code for “Workplace amenities and work environment”.
According to the scope of this compliance code, it “covers the provision of workplace amenities and facilities for the working environment in all workplaces other than construction workplaces.” Providing appropriate and adequate workplace amenities and facilities is a significant factor that will contribute to the basic health, safety and welfare of your employees.
The table below summarizes how each facility or amenity will meet employee needs.
Although each facility and amenity is important in its own way, the main focus now is on the compliance code for toilets and handwashing facilities.
How do you calculate the number of toilets needed?
First, you need to take into account the number of employees at the workplace. Then take into consideration the number of people who are likely to use the toilets at the same time, particularly during work breaks. A very clear example of this scenario is in a factory setting wherein the work done is continuous, thus, employees have specified schedules for their break time. The number of available toilets and handwashing facilities should be enough for those who need to use them at one time.
Another thing you also have to consider is the composition of the workforce—gender ratio. Generally, there should be separate toilets for workplaces that have both male and female employees. However, it is possible to provide only one unisex toilet for both but only if: the total number of employees at the workplace is around 10 or fewer; the other condition to consider is if one gender has two or fewer employees than the other. A sample scenario for this situation is a workplace with small population, consisting only of three male and seven female employees. Keep in mind that unisex toilets should have a closet pan, a washbasin as well as a sanitary bin for women.
For workplaces with a bigger number of employees, here are the minimum ratios:
After the employee toilets are covered, you can also choose to have a separate set of toilets for other non-employees such as visitors and clients. This is not mandatory but it holds true for most workplaces.
Aside from the number of toilets and handwashing facilities, the next thing to be considered is access to these. There should be easy access, meaning employees should have breaks to be able to use the toilets.These facilities should be located near or at least a reasonable distance from where they work. Night shift employees should be able to access them the same way day shift employees do. Employers should ensure that access to the facilities is safe for every employee.
For ease of accessibility, toilets should be located within a building or if this is not feasible, as close as possible to the work area. This is to eliminate or to minimize whatever risk it may have on employee safety when accessing these facilities. For multi-storey buildings, it is advisable to have toilets—at least one—on every second storey. Temporary toilets should be provided for short term or temporary workplaces–particularly those in remote areas. The location of the temporary toilets should be secure and have safe access for whoever uses them.
There is a need for toilets to adhere to approved design standards. First of all, each toilet should be fitted not only with hinged seat but also with a lid. It is important to have adequate lighting and ventilation. Each toilet facility should be distinctly marked and have a hinged door with locking capability from the inside of every cubicle. A soundproof wall should separate toilets from any other room. Otherwise, there should be a separate entrance. An airlock should also separate toilets from any other room.
Aside from the design, it’s important for toilets to each have enough supply of toilet paper and rubbish bins. For female toilets, there should be a hygienic way of disposing sanitary items. An option would be to have sanitary services, which would provide sanitary bins and disposal collection. Handwashing facilities should also be consistent with whatever are the requirements of the compliance code.
Every employee needs to have ready access to toilet facilities–which must be clean and hygienic at all times. To continue meeting the needs of each employee, they need to be maintained regularly. Restroom items like soap and paper towels should always be replenished so it will never be out of stock. Toilet facilities should be cleaned on a regular interval, usually on a daily basis. The cleaning schedule depends on the requirements for hygienic maintenance not just for amenities like toilets and hand basins but also dining areas and showers—should shower facilities be needed in the work area.
Hand washing facilities
Handwashing facilities are very important since the simple act of washing hands help employees in not only maintaining personal hygiene but also in cleaning off by-products—which could come from their work—from the hands before they eat or leave their workplace. The need to wash hands varies and can happen at different intervals like after using the toilet or performing health care tasks. Those who handle animals or chemicals or greasy items like machinery will also require frequent hand washing.
Generally, employees follow the minimum ratios in providing hand washing basins:
However, this number can be adjusted depending not only on the number of employee needs, but also taking into consideration the workforce composition as well as the type of building and line of work.
Design and Access
Just like toilets, handwashing facilities should be easily accessible to employees. Thus, they have to located within the vicinity of the work area, dining area as well as the restrooms. They should also be separated from troughs or the sinks that are used for work processes. Handwashing facilities must also have sufficient protection from the weather.
Each water outlet in handwashing facilities must be allocated an area—at least a square metre—of clear space. There should be outlets for both hot and cold water or outlets that allow temperature mixing. Hygienic products like non-irritating liquid soap or other cleaning products like hand sanitizer should be made available through a dispenser. Disposable paper towels, rubbish bins and hot air dryers should be provided to allow for hygienic hand drying.
For workplaces like kitchens and health care facilities, they have more specific health regulations and guidelines pertaining to hand washing requirements, which they must comply with. New buildings as well as those undergoing major renovations must refer to and comply with the requirements needed for hand washing basins as stated in the Building Code of Australia.
Below are questions from the appendices of Workplace amenities and work environment compliance code, which can help you in meeting the requirements for toilets and handwash basins.
If you want go over a more complete coverage of Victoria’s Workplace Amenities and Work Environment Compliance Code, you can check out it out at their official website.