OSHA Water Requirements: Are Employers Required to Provide Water?
Does OSHA Require Employers to Provide Water?
Yes. OSHA's water requirements for General Industry can be found in §1910.141 Sanitation standard, including the requirements for access to potable water, the design and use of drinking water dispensers, and for separating and marking non-potable water.
There are also OSHA regulations on drinking water for Agriculture (§1928.110), Construction (§1926.51), and Maritime (§1915.88). These mostly have similar language and requirements to General Industry, but they include some requirements that don't come up explicitly in the general Sanitation Standard.
Which of OSHA's Regulations on Drinking Water Apply to Me?
It's important to understand that if OSHA spells out a requirement in a different industry standard but not the one that applies to your workplace, that doesn't mean you're off the hook. OSHA standards are deliberately open to interpretation, especially in the catch-all General Industry. Other standards (like Construction or Agriculture) spell things out more specifically because there is a narrower set of conditions and common practices to take into account for a single industry.
The bottom line is that it's safest to assume that all OSHA drinking water standards apply to you, regardless of which standard they appear in. As long as your standard doesn't contradict another, it can't hurt.
Do You Have To Provide Drinking Water To Employees in the Workplace?
OSHA requires you to provide water that is drinkable according to US Public Health Service Drinking Water Standards, and you can't ask employees to pay for it.
If tap water meets this standard, employers aren't required to provide bottled water. But to fulfill OSHA's drinking water requirements, the potable water must be "readily accessible to all employees" for drinking, washing, food-related hygiene, and other personal use.
It's important to note that while employers must provide access to drinking water at work, they are allowed to restrict where you drink it. Restricting the "where" affects access, however, so then water breaks become a consideration.
Are There Required OSHA Water Breaks?
OSHA doesn't have a minimum water break requirement because needs can vary according to personal biology, medical condition, environmental conditions, the type of work being performed, and more.
The Agriculture field sanitation standard says employers must allow employees "reasonable opportunities during the workday" to access water. It also requires employers to tell their employees that it's important to drink water frequently, especially on hot days.
Outside of agricultural field work, the vague nature of phrases like "shall provide," "access," and "readily available" will allow OSHA to cite you if you fail to give employees enough time or opportunity to hydrate.
Plus, there are other labor laws that regulate the frequency and duration of breaks at the federal, state, and local levels.
What Are OSHA's Water Requirements Per Person?
OSHA doesn't have minimum drinking water requirements per person either since it can vary so much.
The Agriculture field sanitation standard requires water to be "suitably cool and in sufficient amounts" to meet the needs of all employees, "taking into account the air temperature, humidity, and nature of the work performed."
The Maritime sanitation standard specifies that employers should provide potable drinking water at work "in amounts that are adequate to meet the health and personal needs of each employee."
The general Sanitation Standard doesn't mention quantity, but that doesn't mean OSHA can't cite an employer for not providing enough water. The language is open to interpretation and OSHA can decide if an employer's not providing sufficient "access."
If you're in Washington State or California, you do have minimum drinking water requirements.
Are There Any State OSHA Water Requirements?
In Washington and California, the state-level occupational safety and health agency has a standard requiring at least one quart of drinking water per hour for outdoor work.
The WISHA (Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act) water requirement kicks in at 89° in most cases (sooner if they're wearing certain clothing).
Cal/OSHA's water requirement doesn't technically have a temperature minimum. Although many other provisions of their Heat Illness Prevention Standard kick in at 80°F, OSH professionals generally recommend following the water provision requirement in "warm or hot weather."
In both states, the regulations require employers to provide the total amount of water for each employee's shift at the beginning, unless they either have running water or effective procedures for replenishment. California requires the water to be "fresh, pure, suitably cool," and located "as close as practicable" to the employees' work area.
While Washington's standard just requires employers to give employees the "opportunity" to drink their minimum quantity, Cal/OSHA says drinking up to 4 cups per hour "shall be encouraged." There's also required training on the importance of drinking frequently but small quantities of water when it's hot and employees are likely to sweat.
Cal/OSHA also has a set of "high-heat procedures" for 95°F and above. There are many pieces to the high-heat provision, but the most relevant is that employers must mention the importance of drinking plenty of water during a pre-shift meeting, with regular reminders throughout the shift.
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