Drinking Water at Work Law

Drinking water at work is not only a good idea, but it is legally required for employers to provide it. In order to discover the intricacies of the law, I’ve done some research and compiled it in a comprehensive document. Knowing your rights on the subject as an employee, or understanding what you must provide as an employer can be helpful.

What is the law for drinking water at work? Every employer in the United States is required by law to provide drinking water to employees that meet OSHA standards. This doesn’t mean that employers must provide bottled water to their staff.

The specifics of the law regarding drinking water in the workplace includes numerous options for potable water. While some might see this law as a hassle, there are a variety of reasons that hydrated employees are better workers. There are also risks involved if employees drink too little water.

Providing Water to Employees

Providing water to employees is part of the idea that a safe workplace is necessary. Failure to do so is not only illegal but not healthy for employees. There are a few options when it comes to providing potable water to workers, which improves overall working conditions and quality of work.

OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is a United States governing body that regulates safety and health issues in the workplace. Determining drinking laws in the working environment is at the hands of OSHA, and the following are the standards that have been developed.

First and foremost, all companies in the country are responsible for providing free potable water to their employees. Potable water is water that is known to be safe to drink or to cook with. Employees should be able to drink the water provided or wash their hands without fear of ingesting something they shouldn’t. It should also be completely free to all employees. Providing a vending machine would not meet the requirements of the law.

It is also important to prevent the sharing of water bottles or drinking cups. Since many illnesses are spread through saliva, workers should have access to disposable cups or their own bottles, as this falls under the health portion of OSHA. If disposable cups are not provided or employees are not given their own bottles for drinking, the law has been violated.

The water provided must be distributed in individual, disposable bottles, from a fountain or kitchen sink, or from a water cooler. A bathroom sink is not considered a sanitary space from which to obtain drinking water, as it could be easily contaminated.  

It is also part of the law to ensure there is enough water for all employees. For example, if a business has a 12 pack of bottled water for their 15 members of the team with no access to other forms of potable water, they are in violation of the law. Ensuring that there is plenty of water for every member of the staff is imperative in following the law.

How much might one expect to provide each employee per day? The rule of thumb is 8 glasses of water per day. This comes to 64 ounces daily. However, since employees are not at work all 24 hours of the day, it probably isn’t necessary to expect to provide 64 ounces per person. If you’re planning on purchasing bottled water to provide to employees in an office setting, simple math can help to determine an appropriate amount.

An average workday is 8 hours. Although there are 24 hours in a day, we can assume that approximately 8 hours are spent sleeping. This means that half of our waking hours are spent at work. Half of 64 is 32, so 32 ounces per day per employee is a good estimate. Most bottles of water are 16.9 fluid ounces. Two bottles of water would probably meet the needs of an employee working 8 hours.

If the job requires a lot of physical activity, manual labor, or if it is outside in the elements, a different amount of water will be necessary. While most people understand that drinking more water is necessary when sweating or out in the sun, it is also incredibly important to stay hydrated in the cold weather. The human body has to work extra to keep the body warm and functioning, so additional water is typically needed.

If an employer opts to provide a sink from which employees can get their drinking water, it is a good idea to ensure that the water qualifies as safe drinking water. Although, per the Safe Drinking Water Act, this responsibility should fall to the water company and the EPA, sometimes contaminants slip through the cracks.

In order to cover all bases, a company may look into offering filtered water. A filtration system can help to decrease the contamination levels allowed in water. Some systems can be attached to the tap, some are on pitchers, and some go as far as hooking into the actual water lines. Finding the best option for your business may depend on finances, the number of employees, and the size of the building.

What happens if there is a temporary issue that causes the workplace to have no running water? While OSHA’s law was created for the long term, it would make sense that a day with no running water, for example, would be a day in which the office was closed. The law is not only for drinking water but for washing hands and having the ability to flush toilets. Spending a day in an office where these everyday actions are not possible would violate the law and could land the company in trouble.

Not only is providing quality drinking water an enforced law for businesses, but it is also a great way to ensure that productivity is at its highest levels. By offering bottled water, a water cooler and disposable cups, or just a break room sink, employees are sure to feel more like getting work done. Hard working employees tend to make a company more successful and most definitely more productive.

Benefits of Hydrated Workers

The benefits of water are practically limitless. Since the average human body is approximately 60% water, it is important to replenish it throughout the day. Restoring that fluid has several benefits for the body, and in turn, has benefits for business.

Aside from the obvious benefit of drinking water, i.e. you need it to live, there are a handful of other positive factors that also help to improve the quality and productivity of one’s work life. One of the biggest positives drinking plenty of water is that it is even better than coffee for shaking off fatigue. Because of the way it helps the body to perform it’s regular functions more efficiently, a person would feel less tired if they are well hydrated. An employee that is not fatigued is an employee that has more attention to their work and a better quality of work stems from that.

An additional benefit to drinking plenty of water in the workplace is the effect it has on an employee’s mood. Studies have shown that getting enough water usually means a better overall mood. In the work environment, a good attitude typically means that completing necessary tasks are less daunting and much easier to finish. It also means that relations with co-workers will be pleasant. This translates into a more efficient team when it comes to joint efforts.

Drinking water is also known to decrease stress levels. Stress is known to cause headaches and other illnesses over time. By staying hydrated an employee will be more present in the office and have less sick days. It can even go as far as saving the company from having an employee on short or long term disability. While disability is usually covered by an insurance company, the business itself would still be missing an employee and his or her work.

Consuming the proper amount of water also tends to prevent headaches or migraines in the first place. Water helps blood and oxygen travel smoothly to the brain, which helps to stop headaches before they become an issue. This also allows for better thinking, so work will be done more efficiently. Having employees that can think clearly is an obvious win for the employer.

There are a handful of other benefits that are not as directly related to work efficiency or quality, but are benefits nonetheless. These include the flushing of toxins, better skin, assisting in weight loss, improved digestion, and it acts as a combatant of bad breath. Flushing out toxins is necessary to avoid certain illnesses. Better skin and weight loss will generally improve self-esteem and confidence. Weight loss will also help when it comes to the employee’s overall health and work attendance. Improved digestion means fewer bathroom breaks. Having better breath would make the employee easier to work with.

It seems obvious that an employer would feel justified in offering free water to employees without the requirements of the law simply because of the benefits water provides. However, whether an employer recognizes the positive changes better-hydrated employees would have on their company or not, it is required in this country.  

Risks of Drinking too Little Water

Understanding the risks and symptoms of dehydration will often help to prevent a serious medical emergency from occurring. Dehydration can sometimes cause issues that require more than just drinking a glass of water to solve. While having well-hydrated employees helps business, it is also a decent action to care for the wellbeing of said employees.

The first sign of dehydration is often extreme thirst. A dry mouth is usually a good indicator to drink some water. If there is a noticeable difference in the frequency of urination, or if urine is a dark color, dehydration is probably an issue. Fatigue and headaches are other common symptoms. Symptoms such as these are considered mild in nature. Dizziness or confusion often indicates that the level of dehydration is more advanced, as it goes along with some of the other symptoms of moderate dehydration.

A moderate form of dehydration can show additional symptoms such as even less urination, low blood pressure, and a fast pulse. Additionally, moderate dehydration will usually affect the skin and its elasticity. If you were to pinch your skin, it might stay raised, rather than revert back to lying flat immediately. Restoring lost electrolytes is key in preventing the dehydrating from progressing to a severe form.

While these symptoms are indicating dehydration, there is not usually a need for hospitalization or emergency help until the person is unable to keep down fluids, is highly disoriented, or has bloody stool. If these symptoms do occur, it is important to get the person to a doctor or the emergency room as soon as possible. This is when the dehydration has reached a severe level.

Failing to drink enough water when the first signs of dehydration sets in can cause complications beyond the symptoms. Severe dehydration can cause overheating. This begins with heat cramps, which causes cramps in the muscles that are most commonly used. Usually, this can be fixed by drinking water and stretching out the affected muscles.

After heat cramps, a dehydrated person might experience heat exhaustion. During this phase, an individual can reach body temperatures of 104 degrees, which can be extremely dangerous. It also causes severe fatigue and tiredness. It is a good idea for a person experiencing heat exhaustion to see a medical professional.

The final stage in heat illness is heatstroke, in which the body reaches temperatures of 105 degrees and higher. At temperatures such as these, the body’s organs can be damaged and ultimately can be fatal. While preventing heat illness from occurring at all by drinking plenty of water is key, if an employee were to experience this, getting medical help immediately is often the best way to get temperatures down. While waiting for an ambulance, it is best to use ice packs to attempt to bring down the body’s temperature.

While the risks for severe dehydration seem a little extreme for an office setting, many businesses, such as construction or those in road work, can easily fall into these dangers if they are not mindful of their employees and their water intake, In an office setting, it is still important to drink the recommended amount of water to avoid any unnecessary pains from mild dehydration.

There are numerous additional health risks associated with dehydration, from seizures to muscle damage to kidney stones. In fact, the dangers associated with dehydration can extend to any number of illnesses. In order to prevent any legal troubles, it is easiest to provide employees with more than the required amount of water. Even if legal issues are the motivator for providing water to employees, the benefits should be apparent to business managers.

Related Questions

Can employers limit the number of bathroom breaks that employees take?

While there are no specific rules or regulations on the number of bathroom breaks employees can have, OSHA has stated that employees must be allowed to use the restroom to avoid health complications.

Is there a law regulating temperatures at which employees should work?

There is no law that states that a company must provide heat or air conditioning to employees. However, there is a recommendation of 68 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit in an indoor office space. OSHA does get involved when temperatures are so extreme health issues arise.

*thanks to Vegan Liftz for cover photo – https://veganliftz.com/

Steve Todd

Steve Todd, founder of Open Sourced Workplace and is a recognized thought leader in workplace strategy and the future of work. With a passion for work from anywhere, Steve has successfully implemented transformative strategies that enhance productivity and employee satisfaction. Through Open Sourced Workplace, he fosters collaboration among HR, facilities management, technology, and real estate professionals, providing valuable insights and resources. As a speaker and contributor to various publications, Steve remains dedicated to staying at the forefront of workplace innovation, helping organizations thrive in today's dynamic work environment.

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