Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

Remember OSHA’s workplace hygiene requirements

Posted by Jon Elliott on Wed, Jun 10, 2020

cleanliness-2799459_1920Employers considering how to protect their employees from coronavirus infections can look to a growing variety of general and specific guidance. I recently wrote about the latest coronavirus-specific guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (see HERE). 

Employers can also look to general-purpose requirements – the remainder of this note discusses OSHA’s Sanitation Standard (29 CFR 1910.141). This Standard requires employers to provide sanitary conditions in the workplace. The Standard includes requirements to provide drinking water, toilets, and washing facilities and also imposes specific controls on food use and preparation in “permanent places of employment.”

Applicable housekeeping requirements must be followed

The Standard requires employers to keep workplaces “clean to the extent that the nature of the work allows.” In particular:

  • Workplace floors must be as dry as possible. For “wet process” areas, drainage must be adequate, and workers must be provided dry standing places (such as false floors, platforms, or mats) or waterproof footgear.

  • Every floor, working place, and passageway must be free from protruding nails, splinters, loose boards, and unnecessary holes and openings.

Waste collection and management are subject to the following requirements:

  • Wastes that are liquid and/or putrescible must be stored in leakproof containers, generally with tight fitting covers, which must be possible to clean thoroughly and maintained in clean condition.

  • Sweepings, solid or liquid wastes, refuse, and garbage must be removed in ways that avoid creating a health hazard. Wastes must be removed “as often as necessary or appropriate” to maintain the workplace in a sanitary condition.

  • Enclosed workplaces must be kept free of rodents, insects, and other vermin. Structuers must be equipped and maintained “as well as practicable” to prevent pests from entering. Whenever vermin are detected, the employer must institute a continuing and effective extermination program 

Potable water must be provided

Employers must provide potable water that meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) primary drinking water standards. Water must be available for the following as applicable:

  • drinking (all workplaces)

  • washing (all workplaces)

  • cooking-related activities (if any), including washing food; cooking; washing utensils; and washing food preparation and processing areas

  • “personal service rooms” (if any)—such as first aid or medical rooms, change rooms, wash and shower rooms, kitchens, and eating areas

Water can be provided through normal potable water service, or through portable dispensers that meet OSHA design and operation standards. If non-potable water is also available (e.g., for industrial use or fire protection), the employer must ensure that the systems are separate and clearly identified.

Adequate toilet facilities must be provided

Employers must provide adequate toilet facilities, in numbers and types sufficient for the workforce. OSHA specifies numbers for each sex, based on a table of numbers of employees and associated minimum numbers of “water closets” – these range from at least 1 if there are 1-15 employees, up to six for 111-150 employees plus one for each additional 40 employees. OSHA generally requires separate toilet rooms for each sex (each with at least one water closet), although solo occupancy unisex rooms are acceptable. Employers do not have to provide toilet facilities for “mobile crews” if those workers have “readily available” transportation to “nearby” facilities that meet OSHA standards.

Adequate washroom facilities must be provided

Employers generally must provide employees with clean, sanitary facilities for personal washing. Each lavatory must have all the following:

  • hot and cold running water, or tepid running water

  • hand soap or “similar cleansing agents”

  • individual hand towels (or sections thereof) of cloth or paper, warm air blowers, or clean individual sections of continuous cloth toweling, convenient to the lavatories

Employers do not have to provide washing facilities for “mobile crews” if those workers have “readily available” transportation to “nearby” facilities that meet OSHA standards.

In addition, some OSHA standards mandate the installation of showers for employee uses. Whenever a separate OSHA standard requires shower equipment for employees’ use, the Sanitation Standard requires that the showers meet the following criteria:

  • Provide at least one shower for each 10 employees or fraction thereof of each sex who are required to shower during the same shift.

  • Provide body soap or other appropriate cleansing agents convenient to the showers.

  • The showers must have both hot and cold water feeding a common shower head. 

  • Provide employees with individual clean towels.

Changing rooms may be required

Employers who provide employees with working clothes must ensure that the clothes are clean and dry, and may require changing areas with storage for street clothes and appropriate places to change out of potentially contaminated working clothes.

Additional requirements apply if employees eat at work

Employers who permit employees to eat at work must prevent them from eating in toilet rooms and areas exposed to toxic materials, and must provide food waste disposal containers. Employers who provide food service facilities must meet applicable standards.

What now?

Employers should review sanitation and hygiene facilities in their workplaces. For employers open during the coronavirus pandemic, proper provision and maintenance of these facilities will be important elements of worker protection  measures.

Self-Assessment Checklist 

For each of the following where the answer is Yes, does the organization meet applicable requirements in the OSHA Sanitation Standard:

  • Does the organization implement housekeeping, waste management and waste disposal practices at its facilities?

  • Does the organization’s provide potable water for employees?

  • Does the organization provide toilet facilities for employees?

  • Does the organization provide washrooms for employees?

  • Does the organization provide changing rooms for employees?

  • Does the organization allow employees to eat onsite? 

Where can I go for more information? 


STP ComplianceEHS (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. 

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About the Author

Jon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 30 years. 

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:

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Tags: OSHA, EPA, clean water, CDC, Workplace hygiene, sanitation