Maintaining suitable conveniences is part and parcel of owning or operating commercial premises. But many landlords fall into the trap of assuming that their duties when it comes to toilet facilities end with arranging regular cleaning and keeping fixtures in good working order.
Actually, while things like keeping soap dispensers topped up and providing hand driers are up to the discretion of the operator, there is one area where landlords have a clearly defined set of legal duties. And that is in the disposal of sanitary waste.
In its broadest definition, sanitary waste covers three areas:
- Feminine hygiene products (sometimes referred to as sanitary waste in its own right)
- Nappies and other baby-related waste
- Medical waste, including sharps.
For the first two categories, i.e. non-medical waste, there are three relevant areas of legislation which landlords should be aware of:
- The Environmental Protection Act 1990
- The Water Industries Act 1991
- The Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulation 1992.
Medical, or clinical waste, is governed by a more in-depth range of regulations covering the management of controlled and hazardous waste.
Focusing on non-medical waste, there are three key principles commercial premises operators should be aware of to ensure they stay compliant with waste disposal legislation.
Sanitary waste disposal is your responsibility
The Environmental Protection Act created a duty of care on all commercial premises operators to take responsibility for sanitary waste management. Because sanitary waste is defined as controlled waste, it must be collected separately from other types of waste, and disposed of in an authorised way by a licensed operative.
In practice, this means organising separate collection for things like used nappies and feminine hygiene products by providing nappy bins and sanitary bins in toilet facilities as appropriate. It also means arranging for these bins to be emptied, and then disposed of, by a licensed operative.
It is illegal to flush sanitary waste down the toilet
The Water Industries Act 1991 made it an offence for any items likely to cause damage or blockage to a public sewerage system – such as used nappies or feminine sanitary products – to be flushed down a toilet at commercial premises. Combined with the duty of care created by the Environmental Protection Act, the responsibility for ensuring this does not happen ultimately falls on the premises owner. Again, in practical terms, that translates into the adequate provision of sanitary bins.
Sanitary bins must be provided in places of work
Finally, by way of confirmation of what was implied practically by the two earlier acts, the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulation 1992 explicitly stated that sanitary bins must be provided in all workplace female toilets.
Although no equivalent regulation exists for nappy bins, the combined effect of the two earlier pieces of legislation would mean any premises that provided baby changing facilities without nappy bins would be liable to sanction.