Ask the Expert—Tap or bottled water

By: March 30th, 2009 Email This Post Print This Post

Q: Our tap water in the office is terrible. What are the OSHA requirements for an employer providing safe drinking water to its employees?

A: Tap water may not be to your liking, and although you and your office mates may prefer bottled water, your situation would probably not be an OSHA violation.

The requirements to provide water in the workplace are covered under the sanitation standard 1910.141, for general industry. The standard states that the employer must provide potable water, which is “water that meets the standards of drinking purposes of the state or local authority having jurisdiction, or water that meets the quality standards prescribed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Interim Primary Drinking Water Regulations, published in 40 CFR Part 141,” according to a letter of interpretation, “OSHA regulation on piped potable water supply.”


By Annina Griggs on April 3rd, 2009 at 7:50 am

Question: Do all gloves (clean or dirty)need to go into regulated medical waste containers?
Thanks you

If the gloves are truly clean(uncontaminated), they do not meet the OSHA definition of regulated waste, and do not have to be treated as such.

What steps can an individual take to obtain potable drinking water in a County Workplace?

By David LaHoda on July 21st, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Not sure what you mean, but you might want to take a closer look at the Sanitation standard—1910.141.

If you work for a municipality or the state, you may not be covered under federal OSHA. Check if your state has its own OSHA.

We provide a kitchen/breakroom for our employees but I would like to know the exact guidelines for food/drink behind the reception desk and in Xray room. This is in regard to a dental office

OSHA does not give exact standards for details of your scenario, but if there is likely potential for bloodborne exposure in a work area, food, drink, and cosmetics are prohibited. Section 1910.1030(d)(2)(ix) of the standard says:

“Eating, drinking, smoking, applying cosmetics or lip balm, and handling contact lenses are prohibited in work areas where there is a reasonable likelihood of occupational exposure.”

For the purposes of a citation, OSHA says it will determine “reasonable likelihood” on a case-by-case basis.

By David LaHoda on February 10th, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Wow, anywhere in the hospital sounds a bit extreme. OSHA bloodborne pathogens,1910.1030(d)(2)(ix), states: “Eating, drinking, smoking, applying cosmetics or lip balm, and handling contact lenses are prohibited in work areas where there is a reasonable likelihood of occupational exposure.”

Of course you employer can create facility-wide corporate policy on drinks and food at work stations. The employer should label it as such. To pin it on OSHA is misleading.

Our hospital is stating that drinks at desks are not allowed ANYWHERE in a hospital. My question revolves around the business offices where there is no risk of occupational exposure. Does OSHA have a ruling on that?

By Jill Chamberlain on March 1st, 2010 at 10:41 am

We recently changed from a one-room, open floor plan NICU to a new family-centered care unit with individual rooms divided into “pods.” It is designed for 2 nurses to be at each pod with a “peanut” nurse’s station in the center of the pod. Our staffing did not increase with the change of the floor plan, which separated us from other nurses, only to give us a partner in the pod. There is a secretary on the day shift, but none on evenings and nights. That leaves us to leave our pod, walk down a hall and open the door for every visitor. Too often, we are in a pod alone without a partner. We depend on the mercy of others who are not busy to allow us to go get supplies, eat lunch and go to the restroom. We have a charge nurse who does not have a patient assignment, but she has to leave the floor to attend high-risk deliveries in the OB area. After 2 weeks in this new unit, our administration has created a new “rule” stating OSHA guidelines that we are no long allowed to keep beverages at the nurses’ stations. Not even bottled water. We are expected to maintain hydration on a 12 hour shift by “dealing with it” and trying to get to our drinks in the breakroom, in the center of the unit. Parents and family can have drinks in their rooms because “they do not fall under the same guideline.” It has been stated that they feel the families will see it as unprofessional for us to have drinks at our stations. Of course, families have overheard our talking and all have stated that it is rediculous, even offering for us to leave our drinks in their babies rooms! What we need are clearer guidelines so those in administration who care more about a building and their control than about the health and wellfare of their staff cannot make interpretations that support their own beliefs. Is there any help for deydrated nurses??

By Jill Chamberlain on March 1st, 2010 at 10:44 am

In addition, there are no water fountains in our unit. They are outside in the main hallway.

By David LaHoda on March 1st, 2010 at 10:56 am

Sorry to says this, but your administration is technically within its rights and responsibilities to impose a no eating and drinking restriction for your nurses’ station. They can do this based on OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard or as a matter of corporate policy.

OSHA will enforce the prohibition based on the bloodborne pathogens standard on a case-by-case-basis, so you might be able to prove that there are enough controls and barrier separation to allow water bottles at the station. Staff, however, will have to take the lead in initiating this risk assessment.

By Jill Chamberlain on March 1st, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Thank you for your fast response. We’ll take the lead, or else we’ll adjust. I’m sure the employee satisfaction survey will not be favorable this year. 🙂

By Charles Yannaccone on April 14th, 2010 at 8:49 pm

I am an electrician. Hard to find a job these days. My new employer does not provide water or ice ( I live in Florida ). We work outside in the direct sun, little shade for the better part of the year.

What does OSHA require of them and what can I do to help them understand that they must provide potable water. A side question, without ice in Fl, water is undrinkable in the hotter months. Is jobsite water required to be below a certain temperature? Thanks.

By Water at the desk on May 9th, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I was in a staff huddle the other morning; getting ready to start my emergency room shift when it was announced” “it violates OSHA to have a covered water bottle, so you no longer will be able to drink water or coffee at the desk”.
My questions is : We often drink water to stay hydrated and healthy – There is no way we are getting exposed to work hazzards by drinking water our bottlewater; in fact, we are just trying to stay healthy and decrease the amount of time we leave our patients. This is fustrating because I see no rule or statement such as this anywhere in OSHA’s guidelines.

By David LaHoda on May 10th, 2010 at 9:51 am

Your facility is probably basing its decision on Bloodborne Pathogens 1910.1030(d)(2)(ix). For an interpretation of this rule see “Requirements for covered beverages at nurses’ stations.”

Sometimes facilities make corporate-wide decision and mistakenly, or on purpose to provide leverage, attribute it to OSHA (See “I heard that . . . but is it really an OSHA matter” and my Feb. 10 response in the comments above).

Did you ask your manager to cite the OSHA regulation that applies to your situation? You deserve that much at least. This part of the regulation lends itself to a case-by-case assessment on the part of OSHA inspectors or methods/procedures to minimize hazards. Your facility may be able to be in compliance with OSHA without placing this burden on your department.

By Steve Havlik on July 13th, 2010 at 9:26 am

I am the CEO of a hospital laundry. Our soil sort area is a separate area of the plant where universal precautions are observed. This time of year when the heat and humidity are extreme and with the employees required to wear PPE it is unbearable. Knowing the BBP OSHA standard states no drinking in this area, can a hands free foot operated only water fountain that is 50 feet from the main soil sort area be used and is sanitized daily and documented? Common sense would tell me that an employee needs to replenish their body fluids lost through sweating with readily available water. We do not allow open containers or containers fitted with a cover for drinking water that must be dipped or poured and a common drinking cup is prohibited. Wouldn’t the risk of an employee suffering heat stroke be much greater than contacting HIV from this fountain? A quick response would be appreciated. Thanks.

By David LaHoda on July 13th, 2010 at 10:24 am

An OSHA letter of interpretation—this one applies to nursing stations but you can draw the same inferences for the laundry area—says: “The employer/practitioner is free to designate areas in which it is not reasonable to anticipate that occupational exposure will occur and to allow the consumption of food and beverage in those areas. OSHA will evaluate such designations on a case-by-case basis and anticipates that such areas will be separated from contaminated work areas.”

If you document all the precautions you stated above–maybe even do a risk assessment–you could make a case for the proposed work practice.

Of course during hot weather a more you might also encourage your workers to take more or longer breaks away from he contaminated area for the purpose of hydration. That would show an additional and direct good faith effort on your part for the safety of your employees.

we have a sparkling water system installed in our office. i don’t know if the equipment has been serviced or disinfected or anything for a while. is there an OSHA regulation that mandates a certain “sanitization” schedule for office water systems?


By David LaHoda on July 13th, 2010 at 3:59 pm

There is no federal OSHA standard that I know of that specifically addresses testing, etc. OSHA requires the employer to meet the standard of potable water, which is very basic. Your local and state health departments might have higher standards, also you should check what the manufacturer of the system recommends. That is always the first place to look.

By MATT CAUDILL on July 19th, 2010 at 2:37 pm


By David LaHoda on July 19th, 2010 at 2:58 pm

That depends. There are some working conditions where consuming beverages, even from a closed container, pose hazards to employees, according to OSHA. See “Ask the expert: Keeping the lid on won’t placate OSHA.”

On the other hand, employers can make decisions for internal reasons that may or may not be mistakenly attributed to OSHA regulations.

You should ask for clarification from your employer and if OSHA is given as a reason, ask to see the section of the regulation it is based on. A smart employer will give you that much.

By Terri Bell on August 10th, 2010 at 8:18 am

We are in the middle of a heat wave with external temperatures reaching in excess of 100 degrees F. We work in a greenhouse where temperatures can and do frequently reach 110-115 degrees F, with 85-90% humidity. It was stated yesterday, by the owner of the company, that we can no longer have water bottles in the greenhouse due to OSHA regulations. He consistantly violates OSHA regulations when it comes to other safety issues (in order to “cut costs”) but now all of a sudden wants to take our water bottles away, when temps are going to be at their highest. We get reprimanded for going to the breakroom to get drinks when we need it, Also, they do not provide disposable drinking cups for our use in the breakroom. Is it really an OSHA regulation that we cannot have closed top water containers in the greenhouse or is this just another one of our employers ploys to make us suffer?

By David LaHoda on August 10th, 2010 at 8:37 am

There is a measure in the sanitation standard 1910.141(g)(2) that says:

“Eating and drinking areas. No employee shall be allowed to consume food or beverages in a toilet room nor in any area exposed to a toxic material.”

But it doesn’t sound like that is the case in the situation you describe.

Why don’t you ask your boss for the specific OSHA regulation on which to base the no-water-bottle rule. Many times individuals who want to impose a rule will cite OSHA for leverage. You deserve an explanation.

See “I heard that . . . but is it really an OSHA matter.”

Hopefully someone is still monitoring this site! 🙂 Anyway, I am a psychologist for the department of behavioral health, as part of MEDDAC on Fort Carson. My office building is not located in or anywhere near the hospital, but we are still under the hospital jurisdiction for both TJC and OSHA. I have been told that I cannot have a small fishtank in my office due to being under the hospital jurisdiction. We have patients of course, but this is a psychotherapy environment, not a medical environment, and I dont see the harm in having a fishtank in my office. Does this fall under TJC or OSHA regs?

By David LaHoda on November 5th, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Unless your fish tank is a hazard to yourself and co-workers, which it is probably not, it is definitely not an OSHA matter.

It is probably not a specifically prohibited Joint Commission concern, but your employer may have reasons to institute a no-fish tank policy due to CDC and infection control recommendations and considerations.

The question of fish tanks/aquariums in healthcare facilities is a common one.

For more information and regulatory resources, see:

Watch your fish tanks for waterborne illnesses

Ask the expert: Aquariums and waiting rooms

I work front desk in a dental office. The treatment rooms are not in close proximity at all. They are down a hallway at least 200 feet and then around a corner. The practice administrator has stated no beverages and that includes water bottles that have lids/close due to OSHA. There is a girl in the office who is pregnant and also I was just diagnosed with a kidney infection. The break room is upstairs and we are so busy we only get quick restroom breaks and lunches. This is the first office I have been at that has such a strict policy, especially when it comes to the health of employees. I worked in the back before where there was more risk and our water bottles were kept in the “clean” area, sealed and in a cabinet. Is this correct? Do we have to get something from our doctors that states we need to drink fluids (although since this is a dental office with a surgeon that is common knowledge)?

By David LaHoda on November 17th, 2010 at 9:29 am

Getting a note from your doctor to ignore Bloodborne Pathogens standard enforcement won’t help. It would be equivalent to having a note saying you don’t have to use safety needles or gloves when exposures are anticipated. Save the doctor’s note for mostly non-OSHA matters.

The first thing you need to ascertain is if the non-beverage policy at the front desk is indeed for OSHA reasons or is it an office/corporate policy for the sake of professional appearance. Many times it is easier to blame OSHA as the boogeyman than to own up to the fact that a prohibition is due to internal policy. See “Ask the Expert—Don’t fall for all red flags.”

If the beverage ban turns out not to be an OSHA policy, than that is a different matter for you to negotiate. Now is the time to whip out your doctor’s note and solve the problem as an internal or human resources policy.

If not allowing beverages at the front desk is truly due to interpreting the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard, check if you employer is interpreting the standard correctly.

Section(d)(2)(ix) of the standard states: “Eating, drinking, smoking, applying cosmetics or lip balm, and handling contact lenses are prohibited in work areas where there is a reasonable likelihood of occupational exposure.”

You could question the person who administers your OSHA compliance whether the front desk area is a likely exposure area, and if not, designate it as such.

An OSHA letter of interpretation states: “The employer/practitioner is free to designate areas in which it is not reasonable to anticipate that occupational exposure will occur and to allow the consumption of food and beverage in those areas. OSHA will evaluate such designations on a case-by-case basis and anticipates that such areas will be separated from contaminated work areas.”

See “Ask the expert: Drinking on the job, sort of” for more information.

We have a protable water system in our office. Is it okay just to use mouthwash in the water instead of something like ICX tablets? You drink the water same water that you are placing in the container.

By David LaHoda on February 4th, 2011 at 4:29 pm

I’m sorry, but I have no idea what your are talking about, and I doubt it has anything to to with OSHA standards.

By Patricia N on April 20th, 2011 at 4:03 pm

I am currently attending a Vocational school and they have no water fountain or cooler what does OSHA say about suppling students with clean drinking water and Im in school for 6 hours a day…

By David LaHoda on April 20th, 2011 at 4:57 pm

OSHA does not cover students; only employers and employees.

By Laurie Hillman on June 4th, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Is it an OSHA regulation that a carry out coffee with a lid on the container cannot be brought into the ICU unit of a hospital. I was advised today it was and my husband has been in several hospitals over the last 3 months and this is the first time I heard this. Please advise

Is an employer required to provide its employees with drinking water?

I work for a cardiology office where there is no contact with blood. We just had a mock survey by JCAHO and some of the employees at the front desk had covered water bottles, coffee, etc at their desks. The next day we were told that we cannot have ANYTHING TO EAT OR DRINK AT OUR DESKS. I have not heard anything like this before. Is this legal?

By David LaHoda on September 29th, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Though usually necessary for many healthcare facilities, your facility voluntarily submits to accreditation by the Joint Commission, so the findings of the mock surveyor are not a matter of legality. It may be excessive in its interpretation, but there is no law entitling you to covered water bottles and coffee cups at your desk, though Starbucks may be in sympathy with such rule making.

I suspect the surveyor’s interpretation may be influenced by an OSHA interpretation letter referencing covered beverage cups at a nurse’s station. See Ask the expert: Keeping the lid on won’t placate OSHA.

This section of the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen standard is open to site-specific interpretation. And if it was an OSHA inspector, and if your nurse’s station is really free from contamination, you could make a case for having beverages by offering some form of proof or risk assessment against contamination. With a mock surveyor, however, there may not be enough wiggle room in the interpretation.

By Karen Hodge on December 6th, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Is there an OSHA requirement against the use of UL listed surge protectors in staff break areas? Also is there a requirement that all appliances must be plugged directly into a wall outlet?

By David LaHoda on December 6th, 2011 at 8:43 pm

That depends on what you use the surge protectors for. A November 18, 2002 interpretation letter recognizes the use of power strips as listed on the label “for use with a number of low-powered loads, such as computers, peripherals, or audio/video components.” Other usage that calls into question power loads would be addressed by 29 CFR §1910.304(b)(2), Outlet devices.

As for extension cords and appliances, the electrical checklist in OSHA’s Small Business Handbook only references that extension cords have a grounding conductor and electrical appliances such as vacuum cleaners, polishers, vending machines, etc., are grounded.

By chris schehl on March 21st, 2012 at 6:11 am

Our company don`t allow drink`s at the work station`s due to dust in the air. Is there an OSHA approved drinking container that we can purchase? It`s a really hot work enviroment indoor`s with large oven`s. Thank You.

Can a job site restrict drinking from plastic water bottles ?

What special requirements, if any, are needed for delivering drinking water from pumps powered by Internal combustion engines? Are there concerns with engine lubricants migrating into the pump via the drive shaft or other means creating contamination concerns with the drinking water? Any advise will be appreciated. Please reference any international standard on this subject. Thank you for your time and cooperation.

By Matt Montoya on November 15th, 2015 at 3:01 pm

I am a Plant Manager for a hospital laundry our soil sort dept is 50 feet in a separate room. can we allow our employees to have water in closed containers in the soil room?

is there a fda rule banning water bottles on the production floor work areas? had a gmp meeting and were told this. I drive a forklift and dont always have reasonable access to a water cooler. Osha has some rule about mobile jobs having exceptions to carry portable drinking devices such as water bottles. If I shut down lines to stay hydrated I will be written up. I need to drink alot of water with the meds I take for copd and asthma. I dont want to have to file safety violations for dehydration,heat exhaustion, stroke etc. but I will if necessary.can my union do anything legally to help me? hopefully I am covered under ada and be allowed this exception. thx for your time.

I work as a safety rep. on a construction site at the Air force base and our contractor stores their bottled water in the direct heat (sun and conex). Is there a safety violation with this or is it ok?

is there an osha,anci or general ind. standard that says you cant store eqpt. on top of job conex.


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