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Office toilets must scrub up - Millions of working hours are being wasted by a lack of loos, study of 2,000 employees finds

23 February 2016

Research released today suggests that many British businesses are not meeting minimum standards on office toilets, leaving employees with sub-standard facilities and long waits for cubicles. This, in turn, is impacting on UK PLC’s bottom line.

The study, conducted by Initial Washroom Hygiene found that over one fifth of small businesses are not meeting legal requirements for the number of toilets in their office, subsequently causing queues at the loos. More than half of those surveyed said they regularly had to wait to use the washroom facilities in their office, wasting an average of almost seven minutes each week (equating to over five hours per year) doing so.

Furthermore, one fifth of SME employees (19%), are unhappy with the standard of washrooms at their workplace. Of those that are unhappy, two fifths (41%) say it is because there are not enough toilets, so you have to wait to use the washroom. Another two fifths (39%) say their surfaces are unclean.

Lost productivity isn’t the only way in which sub-standard toilets are costing employers, with almost one third (32%) of office workers saying their business has been negatively affected by the standard of their washrooms. As well as hitting staff morale, 7% said their customers and clients had made comments to them about the state of their washrooms, while 3% said they had actually lost business because their washrooms are in such a bad state.

With employment at its highest rate since 2006 and office availability at its lowest rate in 14 years**, employers are being forced to squeeze more people into the same amount of space. Just under half (44%), of the 2,015 small business workers surveyed by Initial Washroom Hygiene said that they had experienced increased pressure on the amount of space in their office, with reduced work spaces (71%), meeting rooms (43%) and car parking spaces (50%) coming under particular strain.

The race for space intensifies at a sector specific level. Of those office workers that have to wait to use the washroom, the longest queuing time is in the IT and telecommunications, and financial services industries (9.8 and 9.1 minutes per week respectively). Meanwhile, washrooms in the food and agricultural industries are the worst culprits for giving customers or clients a negative impression of the company, with 16% of respondents reporting that their washrooms have received bad press. This is followed by the engineering, property and construction industries (15%), and the financial services and IT and telecommunications at 13%.

According to HSE (Health & Safety Executive) guidelines from the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, the number of toilets provided by small businesses for employees must increase in line with the number of employees. Any business with more than five employees, for example, must have at least two toilets available, increasing to a minimum of five for businesses of 76-100 employees. More than one in five of the small business workers questioned said that their employer did not reach the number of toilets required by law***. The guidelines also require employers to keep their washrooms in a ‘clean and orderly condition’, but 19% of employees said that this was not the case in their workplace.

HSE Guidelines: 

Number of employees

Number of toilets

Number of washbasins
















Dr Peter Barratt, Initial Washroom Hygiene, commented, “It’s essential for employers to provide their workers with sufficient numbers of toilet facilities, and to ensure that these are clean and well-presented. Failure to do so not only ignores their legal duty, but turns a blind eye to the effect that this can have on both employees and customers.

Washroom facilities that adhere to regulation will ensure that visitors leave with an enhanced sense of wellbeing. Poor hand hygiene is the major cause of office illness, so the correct amenities such as plenty of good quality soap from dispensers, sanitising gels and hand drying equipment should be readily available to minimise the spread of infection.

“A shabby, under-stocked or unavailable washroom can paint a business in a very bad light. The washroom is often the first and last place a customer will see when visiting your office; and as we all know, these first and last impressions count for a lot.”

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