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Drinking Water in the Workplace

Some businesses have workplace rules that deny drinks in the workplace. Is there an exception to having having access to drinking water?

This really depends upon the working conditions. The best practice is to allow employees to drink water at the work station unless another law or regulation prohibits it. If drinking water is prohibited then employee should be given frequent rest breaks to consume water, particularly if temperatures are warm.

OSHA worker safety regulations require that the employer maintain safe working conditions at all times. OSHA determines standards on a case-by-case basis, rather than setting hard and fast rules. A clerk in an air-conditioned retail store may not need to drink water on duty, and many employers would prohibit it. She can consume enough water on her lunch break to remain healthy. However, if the clerk is working alone and will not have a lunch break, then she should be allowed to keep a bottle of water under the counter and take drinks from it when she is not busy.

Many restaurant kitchens are not air conditioned, and temperatures can routinely reach 100+ degrees. Health department regulations prohibit cooks from drinking water while they are preparing food. Therefore, they cannot drink at the work station, but must be given frequent breaks to consume water and wash their hands before returning to work.

It is up to the employer to come up with a system that will allow the employee to consume enough water to remain healthy without interfering with business operations. This is complicated by the fact that many employers prefer for the customers not to see workers consume food or beverages — it is viewed as less than professional.

This time of year, heat stress and heat stroke are two of the most common workers comp injuries. Remember that different people have very different tolerance for heat. Age, medication, weight, type of work and physical condition and other factors influence an employees tolerance for heat. One employee may be able to work all day in hot temperatures with just a cup of water at lunch. Another may require a cup of water every hour to prevent heat stroke under the same conditions.


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This entry was posted on Monday, July 12th, 2010 at 7:43 am and is filed under
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10 Responses to “Drinking Water in the Workplace”

  1. » Drinking Water in the Workplace Human Resource Blog « Human Resources 123 Says:

    [...] the rest here: » Drinking Water in the Workplace Human Resource Blog Comments [...]

  2. Will Says:

    How does the ADA play a role in this? For example someone taking medication for High Blood Presure, and has Diabetes?

  3. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Will! That is an excellent question. As you know, the ADA requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for an employee with a disability. Diabetes is usually a disability, although high blood pressure may not be. The employee can request that he or she be allowed to drink water at work, if there is a valid medical reason why this is necessary.
    Note that the ADA does not require that employers make disabled workers more comfortable — only that the employer make accommodations that make it possible for the employee to do the job.
    In many cases, the employer would have to grant this accommodation. However, the employer could make another arrangement, like allowing the employee unpaid breaks to drink water. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Caitlin

  4. diana Says:

    I work in a school cafeteria and the supervisor said we are allowed to drink water from a cup with a lid but we are not able to drink bottled water with a lid….is this correct?

  5. Caitlin Says:

    Hi diana! This restriction would be lawful and comply with OSHA regulations. Many employers make this distinction because they wish to minimize the possiblity of spills, especially onto computers or cash registers. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  6. Thora Says:

    I work in fast food and during what my employer calls “lock down hours” which are 3 hour chunks twice a day, I am not allowed to leave my position. This is reasonable because it happens in the busiest hours of the day. However, I am also not allowed to keep a cup of water, closed with a lid, in the kitchen, outside of the kitchen or anywhere within reach. I work on the grills, and it gets very hot and involves a lot of running around and sweating. I just want to know if she can really deny me a glass of water, kept away from equipment, for that long.

  7. Caitlin Says:

    Hi Thora! Actually, we are more concerned about “lock down hours” than about drinking water. OSHA worker safety regulations require that employees be permitted to use the toilet when nature calls. An employee cannot be required to wait more than about 5 minutes to use the toilet. If the employee needs to use the toilet, requiring her to remain at the work station until “lock down hours” ends is a violation of federal regulations.
    OSHA also requires that employers provide safe working conditions. This means that employees must be permitted to drink enough water on breaks or during the shift to prevent heat stroke. Although drinking quarts of water all day is currently a fad, there is no evidence that it is necessary to prevent injury or disease. Unless you are being treated by a doctor for heat stroke or dehydration, the employer is complying with this requirement. If you show signs of heat stroke, then the employer should allow you to leave your work station for a few minutes to drink one or two glasses of water. But sipping water constantly throughout the work day is not necessary for a safe working environment.
    There is a second concern here. Health codes prevent any employee from consuming food or beverages in the kitchen. In addition, if you drink water outside the kitchen, you must wash and sanitize your hands before returning to work. When you drink, germs are transferred from your lips to the cup or bottle and then to your hands. They can easily be transferred to the food you are preparing. As you probably know, these germs can cause food borne illness that is odorless and colorless, but can be fatal. So even outside of lock down hours, no one should be eating or drinking in the kitchen, ever. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Caitlin

  8. ROBERTO D Says:

    Thanks to Caitlin for bringing up the issue of safe food. This is an area overlooked most often by HR managers. Speaking from my knowledge of the workplace in the Philippines I think HR managers should be trained for food safety as well. 99% of the time they decide on who the canteen concessionaires will be based on price and taste alone. Food safety should be in the equation.

  9. Teala Reeve Says:

    I would like to ask if there’s a possible danger in allowing your employees to drink water at the work station or not.

  10. hrlady Says:

    Hi Teala,
    It completely depends on the industry and workstation. An open container of water can pose a spilling hazard around computers, cash registers as well as clothes or other merchandise. Also, an employee who prepares or works around food can transfer germs from the container or his mouth to the food. Employers must implement policies that make sense for their workplace and follow regulatory guidelines.

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