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Rules and Regulations for Public Restrooms

There are a lot of reasons why you should take care when planning a public bathroom, whether it is for your employees, customers or members of your organization or institution.

First and foremost, you want to make a good impression. You want your employees to be satisfied. You want your customers to feel comfortable.

You also need to pay attention to certain regulations and rules for public restrooms. Because the government is invested in making sure that people are safe and have access to basic necessities when either in a public space or at work, it has put in place certain regulations for a business’ public restrooms.

Designing a public restroom takes a lot of planning, but we also realize that many business owners or institutional managers are eager to have their restroom installation or renovation projects done quickly.

That’s why we’re putting together this guide on the various rules and regulations for public restrooms that have been put in place by federal, state and local governments.

While you should always consult with a professional and legal expert to ensure that your plans are up to code, this guide is designed to serve as a useful starting point for those who are planning on, or are in the process of, making changes to their public restroom. Some advice will be specific to businesses with employee bathrooms while others will be more useful to those who are installing a bathroom for customers. Regardless, there will be something here for anyone looking for public restroom regulations best practices.

OSHA Regulations for Business Restrooms

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, commonly known as OSHA, was put into place to ensure that employees and workers were protected from exploitive employers. While you certainly aren’t trying to exploit your workers, OSHA does have strict regulations and rules for business public restrooms in place designed to make sure that workers have ready access to safe and sanitary facilities. It is important that you make your business restroom OSHA compliant to avoid unexpected lawsuits or other legal issues.

First and foremost, OSHA requires that you provide enough restrooms for your employees. Specifically, OSHA requires that employees have access to restroom facilities without needing to wait in long lines. If you have a small work force, a small restroom with suffice. If your workforce is larger, however, you need to make sure that people aren’t waiting more than a couple of minutes to use the restroom.

Furthermore, you can’t impose unreasonable restrictions on restroom use. If you are operating an assembly line, you can, for example, require an employee to inform an overseer to make sure that the line continues to operate safely. However, you cannot require employees to stay on the line regardless of their need to use the restroom under the auspices of safety or productivity.

Third, while you can place restrictions on access — such as door locks and latches — that make sure that users have privacy, you cannot put restrictions in place that cause extended delays. For example, if you are going to require that employees get a key to access an otherwise locked restroom, that key cannot be kept in a place that forces employees to go far out of their way to retrieve it.

You must provide either private restrooms — in which only one person has access at a time — or make sure that larger restrooms are sex segregated. Note, as laws and regulations regarding protections for transgender employees change in different states, this particular regulation may require adjustments to a company’s standard operating procedures.

Finally, you must allow employees to leave their workplaces to use the restroom as needed.

Public Access to Restrooms

As a rule, any business serving food is required to have restroom access for its customers. However, for some small businesses that do not serve food, opening their restrooms to the public is a business decision.

From an optics standpoint, we think it’s always a good idea to have a restroom open to the public. While it is reasonable to reserve use to customers only, being able to provide for your customers’ needs is a cornerstone of good service.

However, if you do want to limit your restroom for employee use only, know that you need to be aware of various public restroom laws.

While providing facilities for employees is regulated federally, as discussed above, public bathroom access generally falls under state laws and local ordinances. As such, you need to be checking with local building codes to make sure that you are meeting your bathroom accessibility requirements.

Additionally, you should know that several states have passed laws that require you to grant customers access to your facilities, regardless of whether they are public or not if the customer has a legitimate medical need. Also known as Ally’s Law, in honor of a young girl who was denied access to a restroom while having a Crohn’s Disease flare-up, these regulations exist in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

It should be noted that this law does not require businesses to perform new construction to make the restroom accessible to the public. Furthermore, if there is a readily accessible public restroom, businesses are permitted to direct customers there instead. For example, if a person has a medical issue in a small retail store in a shopping mall and the mall provides facilities just outside the store, an employee can ask that the customer use the public restroom instead.

Facility Counts

There are a number of guidelines in place dictating the proper toilet to customer ratio for public restrooms. The specific regulations will vary from state to state. However, many states use a standard plumbing guideline known as the Uniform Plumbing Code to determine the proper number of facilities for the size of the installation.

While you should check with local building codes to ensure that you comply, here are some specific guidelines spelled out by the Uniform Plumbing Code. Note, while ratios are presented as one facility for every so many individuals, a facility must be provided even if you only employ one person, as per OSHA regulations. So, for example, if the Uniform Plumbing code suggests one facility for every 40 individuals, this does not mean that you only need to provide that facility if you employ 40 people. Instead, if you employ one to 40 people, you need one facility. If you employ 41 through 80 people, you need two.

  • Schools:

Because schools are charged with the care of children, adhering to restroom building codes is extremely important.

If you are operating an elementary school, the Uniform Plumbing Code requires that you have one lavatory per every 35 male students and 35 female students. Additionally, the code requires one urinal per every 75 male students.

If you are operating a secondary school, the number of lavatories for both male and female students is reduced to one per every 40 students. However, the number of urinals increases to one per every 35 male students.

However, keep in mind that there are separate codes dictating the number of facilities that you provide to your staff. You need to provide one staff lavatory for every 40 male or female employees and one urinal for every 50 male employees

  • Offices:

Regulations for facility counts are straight forward for offices and businesses providing facilities for their employees.

Businesses are required to provide one lavatory for every 40 men and every 40 women. Additionally, if a business has less than 10 male employees, a urinal is not required. Above ten male employees, you need to provide one urinal for every 50 men.

  • Assembly places, such as theaters, convention halls and auditoriums:

For public use, you need to provide lavatories for every 200 expected guests of each sex. However, the rate decreases if you expect over 750 guests of each sex. At that point, you need to add a lavatory for every additional 500 guests.

For male guests, you need to provide a urinal for every 100 guests up to 200 guests. At that point, you need to provide a urinal for every 200 guests up to 600 guests. For more than 600 male guests, you need to add an additional urinal for every additional 300 guests.

 

Americans with Disabilities Act

In addition to following local codes and OSHA regulations, you also need to make sure that your restrooms are American with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.

The key to making a restroom ADA compliant comes to down to making sure that people with mobility and vision issues are able to use your restroom.

Here is an overview of some specific ADA guidelines:

  • Grab bars:

Stalls and lavatories must have installed grab bars. These grab bars cannot be used for other purposes, such as a towel bar. They need to be 1.25 to 1.5 inches in diameter, 34 to 38 inches off the ground and have rounded edges.

  • Stall space:

You need to have at least one handicap accessible toilet and stall within your bathroom. That means the stall must have minimum dimensions of 30 inches by 48 inches, which is enough for a single wheelchair.

  • Rotational space outside of the stalls:

In addition to having at least one stall that can accommodate a wheelchair, you also need to have enough rotational space outside of the stall area that a wheelchair can move freely. That means there must be space for a wheelchair to make a 180-degree turn. That space is defined as 60 inches in diameter.

  • Handicap toilet dimensions:

Within your handicap stall, you also need to make sure that your lavatory is accommodating to those with mobility issues. As such, it must be 17 to 19 inches above the finished floor, with a handle that no higher than 44 inches above the finished floor.

  • Sink height:

Sinks must extend 17 inches from the wall, with a clearance of at least 29 inches between the bottom of the apron to the finished floor. This allows individuals in a wheelchair to access the sink while still in their wheelchair. Furthermore, the sink cannot be more than 34 inches above the finished floor.

  • Hand dryers:

Hand dryers must be motion activated, to eliminate the mobility required to activate them. The dryer may not protrude more than 4 inches from the wall, as they are a common cause of injury for those with visibility issues who cannot see their exact location.

 

Maintenance Requirements

While the code regulating maintenance varies depending on who the facility is designed for, proper maintenance and cleanliness is a must.

You must include a regular maintenance and cleaning schedule to ensure that employees and customers have access to a safe and clean restroom at all times. Damaged fixtures must be repaired as soon as possible. Adequate supplies of hand soap, toilet paper and paper towels — if there is no electric hand dyer — must also be provided. Any spills or messes must be cleaned up immediately.

While there are regulations dictating the way that this must be done, all regulations also reflect best practices. Whether bathroom maintenance falls under customer service or sustaining a healthy employee culture, these are all steps that you should take regardless of the regulations.

 

Privacy Requirements

In addition to indicating the number of toilets installed for the number of customers or employees, plumbing codes also clearly dictate that well-maintained partitions must separate toilets in order to maintain privacy. They need to include privacy locks that allow users to lock stall doors.

Additionally, stalls must be high enough that a user’s privacy is completely maintained. Fortunately, partition providers aren’t in the business of selling non-compliant partitions, so the only bathrooms that tend to be non-compliant these days are older and in severe need of an upgrade. If you fall under this category, there are likely countless other code violations that should be addressed.

While privacy partitions between urinals are not required everywhere, they have become increasingly popular as male culture has changed. Increasingly, men have come accustomed to a semblance of privacy while using urinals, and installing them will likely increase the positive impression made by your restroom.

Even if you aren’t required to install urinal partitions, they are a simple and affordable installation. You should consider doing so, regardless of the requirement.

The Importance of a Quality Partition Partner

Throughout this discussion, we have touched on the many legal regulations that dictate how your public bathroom, whether for employee, guest or customer use, needs to be designed.

Whether you are making your space accommodating to people with disabilities, ensuring that employees have ready access to facilities as needed or you are trying to ensure customer satisfaction for those who patronize your business, designing an accommodating and well-maintained bathroom is a must for any business or public facility.

One of the tenants of quality bathroom design is a high-quality partition. Beyond providing privacy, partitions set the tone for how your bathroom is perceived by those that use it.

As noted in our discussion of ADA requirements, stall layouts are an important and regulated component of any public bathroom design. You need to choose partitions that are large enough to be accommodating to those in wheelchairs and high quality enough that they will stand up to repeated use. Lower-quality stalls that begin to malfunction can add a further impediment to those with mobility issues and may even push your public restroom out of compliance.

Because you have a responsibility to provide access and privacy to your employees, your choice in stall partitions will also determine whether you are meeting OSHA requirements. Because you cannot put unnecessary or unreasonable impediments in front of employees trying to use the restroom, you should invest in high-quality stalls to ensure that all employees are able to use the bathroom as needed and then get back to work promptly.

Furthermore, if you are providing restrooms for large numbers of guests, employees, pupils, patients or customers, you also need to make sure that you have enough toilets and urinals installed, as per the Uniform Plumbing Code. Because you need to provide those individual toilets with requisite privacy, meeting facility count requirements also requires investing in enough stall partitions. Working with someone who understands these minimum requirements will enable you to move through the layout, purchase and installation stages quickly and effectively.

Whether you are in the midst of a new construction or you are renovating your public restrooms to bring them up to code, you want to make an investment that prioritizes ROI rather than a low bottom line. Because restrooms, especially large public facilities, are almost constantly in use, you want to make sure that you are purchasing and installing partitions that are designed to withstand frequent use while also being visually appealing.

Luckily, here at One Point Partitions, we have a variety of available designs, all of which are expertly crafted and notably durable.

Whether you are looking for a steel finish or a wide variety of durable, hard wearing colors, our selection allows you to keep your public restroom up to code while keeping installation costs reasonable and future maintenance costs to a minimum. In other words, if you need new bathroom stalls installed to keep your restroom OSHA, ADA or Uniform Plumbing Code compliant, you won’t find a better ROI anywhere else.

Luckily, even if you are still struggling to understand exactly how to keep your stalls up to code, by partnering with One Point Partitions, you will be working with a company that has a wealth of design experience. We understand the specifics of OSHA and ADA requirements, and we can help guide you through the process. In fact, we offer free design consultations with free mock ups to help you visualize your bathroom stall layout and overall restroom design.

If you would rather approach your bathroom design yourself, we also have an online design tool that will allow you to get a visual sense of your bathroom design while providing us with the information we need to give you a quick and accurate quote.

All of our products are American made. We know that there are so many products out there in varying degrees of quality, but you can count on the American worker to provide a well-made product that will last.

So if you are ready to start a new project or you are in the middle of a restroom or office redesign and need immediate assistance in taking the next step, use our quote tool to get a response quickly.

You can also peruse our wide variety of high-quality products, including partitions in powder coated steel, laminate, solid plastic, phenolic or stainless steel. Products come in a variety of colors, and each is backed by a warranty.

We also offer urinal stalls in the same finishes, meaning you can provide the kind of privacy that many employees and customers have come to expect.

Regardless of the size of your public restroom, its age or the design you eventually want to implement, high-quality, durable partitions are a crucial part. They will help to ensure that your bathroom is compliant and accommodating for years to come. So turn to a partition partner that you can rely on — one that will give you the help and support that you need at a fair price. Turn to One Point Partitions and contact us today!

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