With the recent debate surrounding gender-neutral bathrooms, whether men should have sanitary bins and the change in UK law stipulating the need for female-only toilets, there has been a surge in discussion about the legal requirements for sanitary bins in the workplace and public spaces in the UK. So what are the health and safety implications and how can you prevent falling foul of the law?
What are the legal requirements for sanitary bins in the UK?
Regardless of the make-up of your regular workforce, if there are females (such as visitors or customers) using the toilet facilities in your building then you have a duty of care to provide adequate and well-maintained sanitary bins. This is down to three legal acts with specific stipulations regarding the disposal of sanitary products:
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
These are the regulations that most people think of when they consider what a workplace must provide for its employees, as it is the one that sets out what must be done to ensure their health and safety. In simple terms, it means that there must be enough toilet facilities for the workforce and that they should be maintained to a high standard. This includes being well lit, ventilated, lockable doors and adequately cleaned, with provisions such as hot water, paper towels, soap and sanitary waste disposal facilities.
The Water Industries Act 1991
This act is to protect the private and public sewers and the ‘water industry’ that it is named for. For businesses, this means that you must provide the means for people to dispose of their sanitary materials appropriately and discreetly so that they do not have to resort to flushing them down the toilet. It also looks out for your interests too, as it hopes to avoid expensive plumbing repairs or damage further down the line: literally and figuratively.
The Environmental Protection Act 1990
This act is similar to the one above but it is to protect the environment rather than the infrastructure of sewers and pipes. We can no longer ignore the negative impact humans are having on the environment, and sanitary waste is one of the many non-biodegradable items that we use in our daily life that are causing devastating amounts of rubbish in our oceans and on our land. This is down to the high levels of plastic they contain, meaning that in most cases, every single sanitary pad, or sometimes tampons too, is still around, out there somewhere. A sobering fact, considering that at any one time 300 million people are menstruating.
By not providing suitable sanitary item disposal facilities you are leaving the users of the washroom no other option but to flush items down the toilet that do not belong there. As well as leading to costly plumbing issues, you could also be liable for severe penalties for having ample opportunity to educate yourself and remedy the situation but choosing not to do so.
What are the health and safety issues surrounding sanitary bins?
As well as the legal implications for the provision of sanitary bins in the workplace, there’s also the health and safety aspect of the issue. This could be as obvious as making sure people do not come into contact with bodily fluids, to the less definable impact on mental health that not having access to basic facilities can have.
Why you need more than just a regular bin
First of all, consider that your bathroom is talking about you behind your back. Your staff and any visitors are confronted with this part of your company when you are not there to defend yourself. By choosing to use a simple bin (and sometimes worse: uncovered!) you are coming across as someone who does not take these things seriously or see them as important.
Plus there are very real issues with using waste bins designed for home or office paper waste: the smell and sight alone are unsightly, they are usually too small for this kind of waste and make no use of the extra measures that sanitary bins are designed with, such as antibacterial properties, lids that require little or no contact or means to neutralise or disguise odours.
Then there is the issue that when opting for this type of bin many simply choose a single bin and place it somewhere that everyone can access it, or worse: in a place in front of everyone else. When asked, 74% of women said that they still felt the need to keep their period a secret at work, so are far less likely to use a bin that requires doing so in front of other people, or an open bin that easily shows what is inside – an issue for smaller businesses which employs only a handful of women.
It also helps to remember that, while we all know that they are commonly used for the disposal of menstruation materials, there are a few other times that they can be useful to have in toilets, such as nappy disposal if you do not have separate baby changing facilities, medical waste, such as diabetic needles or dressings that need changing, or anything else that may not be suitable for a regular bin, or which requires the privacy of a bathroom visit.
Why you should hire professionals to deal with your sanitary bin needs
You could do it yourself. Your staff could do it. But then you are paying both yourself and them for professionally different work that is likely costing a lot more per hour than a simple weekly or monthly bin collection service would. Is the cost, both in money and time, of emptying a bin worth it? Plus there’s the training needed for proper handling, storing and adequate disposal of said waste – it cannot be disposed of with the usual waste headed for the landfill.
So your employees and yourself are out, how about the cleaners? Many cleaners are unable to empty sanitary bins due to the hazards associated with coming into contact with human waste and lacking the training for managing it sufficiently. The only real option that provides you with cover and peace of mind is to outsource your sanitary bin needs to a company with the knowledge and means to do so. By opting to use a professional sanitary waste management company, you remove any source of complication and frustration, as well as knowing you will have the paper trail to prove you are doing all that you can to provide services and proper disposal, should any issues arise.
While it is not a legal requirement to specifically use a specially designed sanitary bin in your work place, you do have a duty of care to make sure that what you do provide covers all of the regulations listed above. It can benefit your business, in the long run however, to opt for industrial sanitary bins in every stall of any washroom that a female may use, whether they are a regular member of your workforce or not. As well as maintaining a public image that shows that you care for their well-being and safety, it also alleviates any worry that you may have about falling short of any legal requirements.
By outsourcing the disposal of sanitary waste you give yourself peace of mind that it is being set up, emptied and disposed of to regulation. As with all important background facilities, you can essentially forget about it and leave it to the professionals. Plus here at VR Sani-co all of our services are contract-free, meaning that you are in complete control over how your washroom is run.