As a stay-at-home writer with a very tolerant wife, I admire anyone who heads into an office, or who trudges off to a construction site, day after mindless day. If you are one of those people, please know that I salute you. You are a stronger and more resilient person than I am.
I know this may be hard to believe, when you look around your office or worksite, but the law does set down a minimum standard for office and worksite equipment, services, and safety. If a workplace fails to comply with these laws, you can dob it in to the workplace police (anonymously, usually). Your workplace will then, theoretically at least, be required to take steps to fix the problem or perhaps even pay a fine. You might even get yourself on the nightly television news as ‘office worker / hero’ if that is something you are into. This might not be the best idea if you made your complaint anonymously, though.
Where things get tricky in this area is when it comes to figuring out the ‘minimum standards’ for workplace health and safety for your particular workplace. The law is good at saying what (in broad terms) are the minimum health and safety requirements of all workplaces, but then leaves it to workers and their bosses to discuss how this applies to their workplace. And your work only needs to do what is ‘reasonably practicable’ given its size, financial position, and number of workers, to meet this minimum level of health and safety.
At a bare minimum, your workplace must:
⁃ ensure its layout, lighting, and ventilation let you carry out your work without risks to your, and others, health and safety;
⁃ either have, or allow you access to, toilets, drinking water, kitchen and eating facilities; and
⁃ have emergency exit plans in case there is a fire, bomb scare, or a really good game of sport on at the local pub.
Take this list into your office or worksite tomorrow and do a bit of a check as to how many of these minimum requirements your workplace meets or fails to meet. If it fails to meet any of them, I would strongly suggest having a chat to your health and safety officer. Not sure who this person is? Then go and talk to the most senior person in your workplace, as ultimately it is their issue (and their liability). What’s that? You are the most senior person? Then it is up to you to fix any workplace health and safety issues as soon as possible. Go now! But no running, it’s not safe!
Now, let’s talk about work toilets. Yes, I am obsessed by them, but I feel that a workplace’s toilets are the best way to gauge how much a workplace cares about its staff. The cleaner, nicer, and better the toilets, the better the workplace. That is an indisputable fact of working life.
To my delight, I discovered there is a national code setting out, in detail, the specifications of legally acceptable work toilets. I would have loved to be at the meeting that debated and agreed to these specifications. Imagine the lively discussions over the best type of toilet and toilet layout for workplaces across this fine country. It would have been some fascinating shit, no pun intended.
First, your work needs to provide separate toilets for male and female workers. However, one unisex toilet may be provided in workplaces with both male and female workers, if the total number of people who normally work at the workplace is ten or less, or there are two or less workers of one gender. Now maths is coming into it, how cool is that?
Any workplace bathroom, regardless of the number of staff that work at that workplace, must have at least one toilet that includes a closet pan (what the hell is a closet pan?), a washbasin, and a means for disposing of sanitary items.
Now, to my favourite part of this whole section, perhaps this whole book. The specifications of workplace toilets:
⁃ Each toilet must be fitted with a hinged seat and lid.
⁃ Each toilet must be provided with adequate lighting and ventilation.
⁃ Office bathrooms need to be clearly signposted throughout the workplace (so if you have to go in a hurry, you do not lose your way and, say, accidentally use your boss’ desk instead).
⁃ Work toilets need to be fitted with a hinged door capable of being locked from the inside of each cubicle.
⁃ Each toilet stall must be designed to allow emergency access (I presume this means emergency access to the stall, not to your out-holes).
⁃ The bathroom and toilet layout must be done in a way that best ensures the privacy of the user.
⁃ The toilet section of a bathroom must be separate from any other room of the office by an airlock (damn, that sounds serious) and have soundproof walls.
Notice the lack of a requirement to provide newspapers? I know, a major oversight in office toilet specifications. This would not have happened if I had been there when the toilet code was being prepared.
But wait, we are not done yet. All workplace toilets must be supplied with:
⁃ An adequate supply of toilet paper (my last two workplaces failed miserably on this one, with paper always running out just after the lunchtime rush).
⁃ Hand washing facilities.
⁃ Rubbish bins.
⁃ For female bathrooms, the hygienic means to dispose of sanitary items.
Finally, these last couple of paragraphs are dedicated to my wonderful wife, who works in an office that always seems to have its air conditioning set to ‘Arctic Cold.’ Get ready for more excitement, as there is also a national air-conditioning code for offices throughout Australia. Ready for it? You bet you are! An office air-conditioning system must:
⁃ Provide a comfortable environment in relation to air temperature, humidity, and movement.
⁃ Prevent the excessive accumulation of odours (my previous co-workers would have appreciated this, given my habit of dropping a silent little fart every now and then).
⁃ Reduce the levels of respiratory by-products, especially carbon dioxide, and other indoor contaminants that may arise from work activities.
⁃ Supply an amount of fresh air to the workplace, exhaust some of the stale air, and both filter and recirculate some of that amazing indoor air we all inhale day after day in the office.
So my dear wife, your workplace is fucking you over on the air-conditioning thing, as it is not providing you with a comfortable environment. I will give you a couple of copies of this book with this section marked (I suspect we are going to have quite a few copies left over after people start to return them to us) to leave as presents for your bosses. I am sure they will do the right thing and fix the air-conditioning, so you no longer need to wear your cute woollen beanie in the office. Raising this issue with your boss won’t affect your career prospects at all, I promise.