What is the employer supposed to provide in terms of drinking water? Is getting water from the kitchen sink tap acceptable? There is only one kitchen, one sink and it's not very close to where many of us work.
No, this is not acceptable. The water needs to be clean and accessible to all employees at all times - this is particularly important during hot weather.
The Compliance Code for Workplace Amenities and Work Environment covers what employers need to provide in order to comply with their duties under Section 21 of the OHS Act. It recommends that drinking outlets should be 'separate from washing facilities to avoid contamination.' This is what the Code says in full (in sections 34 - 39):
34. Clean drinking water needs to be provided for employees at all times. Drinking enough fluids is essential for normal body functioning.
35. Water needs to be:
- free of charge
- supplied so that there is one drinking point for every 40 employees or part thereof
- situated within 30 metres of each employee or within reach of employees who cannot leave their work task.
36. Sometimes, when workplaces are temporary, remote or mobile, employers are unable to provide drinking points for employees. Employees such as transport drivers, security personnel, park rangers and gardeners, forestry employees, sales representatives or mobile community health employees could be affected.In these cases, employers need to provide the amenity by ensuring access to public drinking water facilities, bottled water or containers for employees to take water with them.
37. Drinking water needs to be clean, safe for consumption, cool and palatable.
38. More information on the quality of drinking water can be found in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines endorsed by the National Health and Medical Research Council (nhmrc.gov.au).
39. Drinking water provided by employers needs to be:
- from outlets that are separate from toilet or washing facilities to avoid contamination
- hygienically provided by means of disposable or washable drinking containers or delivered by a drinking fountain so that employees do not share drinking containers.
To access and download the Compliance Code for Workplace Amenities and Work Environment go to this page on the WorkSafe Victoria website.
September 2020 Ruling on breaks supports rights of workers to get a drink, go to the toilet
Employers have a WHS obligation to allow workers access to toilet and drinking facilities and cannot restrict such access to scheduled breaks, the Federal Court has confirmed after finding a major employer misled young workers on this issue in a Facebook post. Without going into too much detail, the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) launched proceedings against Brisbane-based McDonald's franchisee Tantex Holdings Pty Ltd after its general manager said on a staff Facebook page that if workers wanted to enforce the 10-minute-break rule then this break would "be the only time you would ever be permitted to have a drink or go to the toilet." Workers had complained that they were not getting their scheduled breaks.
Justice John Logan found Tantex had breached the Fair Work Act, and said, "Denial of access as needed to toilet facilities or drinking water could, as a matter of ordinary life experience, have adverse health and safety ramifications for an employee and thus enliven the primary statutory duty of an employer found in section 19 of the [Queensland] WHS Act."
Read more: Retail and Fast Food Workers Union Incorporated v Tantex Holdings Pty Ltd  FCA 1258 (31 August 2020)
Last amended September 2020