Published: 21st June 2021
We are all aware that keeping hydrated is good for us, and as an employer, you probably want to encourage your workforce to be healthy. However, there are actually legal requirements around the provision of water in the workplace that every business needs to be aware of.
It might seem like common sense, but there are laws that employers need to adhere to in order to keep their workforce safe, healthy and provided for. So, are your business hydration efforts going swimmingly or are they more of a damp squib?
Yes. Employees must be allowed to drink whenever they need to, and the water provided must be free from microorganisms, parasites, dangerous substances, substances that react with other elements or concentrations of nitrates above a particular limit.
The Workplace Regulation 1992 recognises that “wholesome drinking water” can come from a mains supply, bottled water or water dispensing systems and it must be clearly marked as drinking water.
Adding a water cooler or bottled water vending machine is one way to ensure that your drinking water source is away from hazards and contaminants, as they can be positioned anywhere that you need, unlike sinks and taps which are reliant on the pipes you have in place and can be difficult to relocate.
If you’re required to carry out any kind of physical labour, or work in hot conditions, you will obviously need to take on water at frequent intervals, but this does not mean that air-conditioned office workers don’t also need their share. The laws surrounding drinking water apply to all staff, no matter where they might work.
Providing clean drinking water for staff is part an employer’s health and safety remit, and it must be available, clean, free from contamination, unlimited and easily accessible. There must also be hygienic receptacles for this, such as washable glasses or disposable cups. Alternatively, the water can also come from a drinking fountain.
The HSE rules for drinking water include high quality drinking water, whether that’s from a water fountain or a water cooler or tap with washable glasses or disposable cups. Water in enclosed containers, such as bottled water coolers or bottles from a vending machine should only be provided where mains fed supply isn’t available.
The UK actually has strict regulations on the quality of drinking water, meaning that all water has met these strict bacterial and chemical standards before even leaving the tap. Considering this, all tap water in the UK is safe to drink.
However, tap water throughout the UK can taste different. This is because the ‘hardness’ of the water can vary from region to region, but this doesn’t effect the safety of the water when consuming it. If you still wish to err on the side of caution, the water coming from a tap should be colourless and have no smell. So if it does, steer clear from drinking it.
As an employer, you are required to follow the letter of the law, but that does not mean that your responsibilities should go no further than this.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) shows a commitment to the community’s social and environmental concerns and tackling issues such as climate change is seen as a huge part of this. The way you provide water to your workforce can have an impact on your CSR, as conserving water is an important factor in environmental commitments. Treating water and pumping it around the country is chemical-intensive and not energy efficient, so using different drinking water supplies can help to reduce your carbon footprint.
Access to clean drinking water is recognised by the United Nations as a basic human right, and that is why an adequate provision of it in the workplace is so important. Water improves health and brain function and is another step towards a full health and safety provision in the workplace, so it is important that all employers are aware of their responsibilities.