Monday, November 5, 2007

Bread and Toilets

Let me tell the story of the plumbing failure first, so you can follow where this train of thought takes me. The water main break in town this morning had caused a water shut-off by 10am, and an email from the Facilities office asking us to "use bathrooms sparingly." (a hundred pregnant woman belly-lifted themselves out of non-ergonomic chairs to march on the executive wing, as soon as they could catch their breath.)

Use bathrooms sparingly, you occupants of 1 million square feet of office space.

I had already punched up the OSHA statement on this very problem and was about to send it to my HR rep by the time we were ordered home:
If the employer does not provide reasonable access to toilet facilities when the employees need to use them, the employer would be in violation of OSHA's general industry sanitation standard (29 Code of Federal Regulations §1910.141(c)(1)(i)). OSHA addressed the issue of employee access to toilet facilities in a memorandum to OSHA's Regional Administrators dated April 6, 1998 (copy enclosed). This memorandum is a public document and is available on OSHA's website

which brings us to our topic.
Which do you like better, the fact that the US Government has ruled on what is "reasonable" access to toilet facilities, or the fact that they did it in 1998.

I'll tell you what you'll like best: reading the memorandum. Let me give you some highlights so that you too can become completely annoying in your workplace

Toilets must be located in separate rooms for each sex.
So Ally McBeal was in violation. If you have a one-seater, you do not have to designate them by sex, but the urinal will probably give it away.

Facilities must contain hot water, soap, towels or blowers, and trashcans. If showering is required, shower soap must be provided. Don't let them pretend they are doing you some kind of big favor.

No employee shall be allowed to consume food or beverages in a toilet room nor in any area exposed to a toxic material. This seems like a good rule. The better rule is 2 paragraphs later when you learn that you can't store food there either. So IF you are caught with your apple or coffee cup, don't try saying you were jusy "putting it away."

The memorandum (man, I miss that word) opens with an explanation of why human beings should be allowed to urinate when they need to, citing the New England Journal of Medicine. The issue of "accessibility" and "promptness" required a field sanitation ruling on how far from the field is safe for the spinach and close enough to be safe for the worker. One quarter mile. Sounds longer than it is - 70 yards - but I know a few of you who will say you wouldn't make it.

The Company can not place "unreasonable restrictions" on your bathroom use. Which means it can place reasonable restrictions. Think of that. And just what that means may depend on how much stamina you have to take your case to the Supreme Court.

In the Mill where I work, back when it spun wool into gold, "each and every absence, no matter how small, by a day hand, must be deducted from the time of the absentee." Once presumes it was more than a quarter-mile to the privvy.

You might be interested to learn that OSHA can not have an opinion on whether or not your bathroom breaks are considered unpaid. That is the authority of the Division of Wage and Hour, and a different website.

I think what I'm saying is, if you are reading this on the job right now, especially if that happens to be in your living room, or on a Treo in the lobby of your daughter's ballet class, if you can go to the bathroom as much as you damn well please...thank a Mill Girl.

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