Guide to drinking water in the office

“Water is the very essence of life”, say National Health Service (NHS) advisor Hartman in an article dated the 24th of October 2019. Only by drinking enough water can we keep our bodies hydrated – something that is essential for our health and wellbeing.

You might be surprised by the volume of water that is required to meet those needs for adequate hydration — NHS, Holland & Barrett point to the long-established target of six to eight glasses (or around 1.2 litres) of fluids a day.

For much of the time, most days of the week, of course, the majority of people are at work. If you are going to be drinking nearly enough water to meet your target of 1.2 litres, therefore, you rely on being able to drink it in the office or at your place of work.

This guide looks at the provision of drinking water in the office including:

  • Legislation
  • Benefits
    • Health and hydration
    • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
    • Cost savings
  • FAQs
  • Options

Legislation relating to drinking water at your place of business

According to the Workplace Regulation 1992, access to clean drinking water at work is such an essential right that it is enshrined in law..

Regulation 22 specifically refers to the provision at work of wholesome drinking water and recognises the UN’s resolution that access to clean drinking water is a basic human right (Resolution 64/292).

But the UK’s Workplace Regulations also go on to say that drinking water at work must be “readily accessible at suitable places” and clearly marked as safe for drinking (if there is any risk of confusion over supplies that are not suitable for drinking).

The Regulations also makes clear that it is the employer’s responsibility to provide suitable cups or other containers from which to drink the water – or a water fountain or jet from which employees can easily drink.

The Regulations make it clear that you must allow your employees to drink water as and when they want – and that any attempt to stop them from doing so may be a breach of your obligations and the imposition of an unlimited fine by way of penalty.

If you are an employee worried about whether you have adequate access to clean drinking water in the office, you need to contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) about your concerns.

“Wholesome drinking water”

The Regulations refer to “wholesome drinking water”. This means the water you provide is clean and safe to drink.

Once again, the law is quite specific on the matter and is defined by the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 2016. These stipulate that clean and safe drinking water contains no:

  • microorganisms or parasites;
  • concentrations of substances which are a potential danger to human health;
  • concentrations of substances which react with other elements which may pose a danger to human health; or
  • concentrations of nitrates above a certain limit.

The specific concentrations of those substances are set out in Schedule 1 of the Regulations.

If you have any doubts, it is ideal to ask your local environmental health officers or your water company about the quality of drinking water supplied and, if necessary, test it.

Benefits of drinking water

As an employer, you are no doubt aware of the benefits of many aspects of health and safety legislation. In the case of providing clean and safe drinking water, many of those benefits are identifiable very clearly.

Health and hydration

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has argued that people are a company’s most valuable asset. Your workforce is one of your most precious resources – and that makes keeping the individuals healthy and in peak fitness for work a priority.

Drinking water is essential to health because it keeps the body hydrated – water accounts for an average of between 50% and 75% of the body:

  • it helps to keep your body temperature regulated;
  • protects tissues and joints;
  • keeps your muscles, eyes and joints lubricated;
  • prevents constipation and helps the body to rid itself of waste products;
  • helps produce the saliva needed for eating;
  • because it helps you to feel full, it may prevent over-eating and aid weight-loss;
  • raises blood oxygen levels; and
  • boosts metabolism and energy.

Hydration is important because of the many ill-effects of dehydration. You need to keep your brain – as well as the rest of your body - hydrated. Some of the effects of dehydration include befuddled thinking, difficulty in focusing on the tasks in hand, lapses of memory, and a generally depleted mental acuity.

Dehydration is mood-altering – it can leave you feeling tired, confused and anxious.

Not only is hydration essential for anyone's physical and mental wellbeing, therefore, it is also likely to affect their performance at work.

That effect is especially noticeable when physical effort is involved – such as engaging in sports. Human Kinetics, for example, has found that physical performance may be affected when the body is dehydrated by as little as two-hundredths of body weight – while more than 5% dehydration can affect performance by up to 30%.

But dehydration or under-hydration may also affect mental states such as alertness and cognitive function. These are the findings confirmed by recent studies in the United States – reported by Medical News Today on the 4th of January 2020 – that showed dehydration causes physiological changes such as headaches and a loss of cognitive function. It is borne out by studies which suggest that a 1% reduction in hydration can result in a 12% fall in productivity among staff, while a 3% to 4% drop can lead to a fall in productivity by as much as 25% to 50%.

Ensuring that your workforce remains adequately hydrated – through the provision of enough drinking water – is not only good for them, therefore, but excellent news for productivity and the effect that has on the bottom line of your business and its commercial success.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) features in the mission statements of an increasing number of companies these days.

While a useful definition of CSR may be found on the website The Balance on the 7th of October 2019, it is widely interpreted as an expression of your commitment to incorporating the community’s social and environmental concerns into your day to day activities and overall corporate goals. Simply put, it is a way of announcing your commitment to making the world a better place.

According to a story in the Telegraph newspaper on the 8th of October 2019, 59% of consumers believe that businesses have a duty to tackle climate change and environmental issues generally. But only 16% of corporate bosses put that CSR in the top three of their business objectives. There remains a mismatch between what society expects of business and what business believes to be necessary.

Yet – as we discuss in this guide – the way you provide water to those working in and visiting your offices may have a considerable impact on your perceived CSR.

Cost-saving

While you and your company have a legal obligation to provide clean and safe drinking water to your workforce, there are also social and financial imperatives for saving and conserving water supplies. Water conservation saves you money but also reinforces your corporate social responsibility.

Your use of water and energy are closely linked, argues WaterWise.

Water treatment requires considerable consumption of energy by the water companies that supply your offices. That treatment is also chemical-intensive. Pumping treated water around the country also consumes a significant amount of energy. Reducing the amount of water you use in your offices – and finding the most efficient methods for supply clean and safe drinking water for your staff and visitors – may have an impact on your carbon footprint. By reducing your carbon footprint, you may also enhance your CSR.

As we shall see, some ways of reducing that carbon footprint not only improves your CSR but are also the way to achieving cost-savings – a win-win result for your business, your CSR and consumers of the drinking water you provide.

Frequently asked questions

Water in the office – or at home, for that matter – is typically taken for granted. To ensure that you are fulfilling your legal obligations in providing clean and safe drinking water for your staff while doing so in a way that enhances your CSR, and saves you money, however, it may still leave some questions unanswered.

Here is just a selection of some frequently asked questions.

How clean is the water from the taps in the office?

Drinking water drawn straight from the tap anywhere in the UK is some of the cleanest and safest in the world.

That said, however, tap water contains impurities. Impurities in sufficient number and concentrations to put off at least one fitness professional from ever drinking it. Fitness blogger Martin Whitaker claims that tap water may contain up to 300 different man-made chemicals – yet water companies test for only around 30 or so.

The most commonly found are:

  • aluminium sulphate;
  • calcium hydroxide;
  • liquified chlorine;
  • sodium silicofluoride; and
  • fluorosilicic acid.

Among the more alarming, however, are the pesticides and weed-killers atrazine, DDT, 3:4-benzpyrene, and simazine.

How can harmful chemicals such as these be eliminated from tap water?

EauVation’s unique filtered water systems capture and remove 99% of all those impurities.

The resulting product – chilled, still or sparkling – is then free of the discolouration, odour, and poor taste that impurities often leave. Instead, the refreshing, pure drink has the appearance and great taste likely to be appreciated by everyone.

What if our office has only limited space?

Limited space is no excuse for failing to meet your obligations to provide access to wholesome drinking water for the whole of your workforce. Neither is such an explanation likely to cut much ice with clients, guests and other visitors to your offices.

Modern filtered water systems connect directly to the mains and may feed a wide variety of space-saving distribution points – standalone units, under-counter and table-top systems are available.

If the alternative is buying in pallets of prepacked plastic water bottles, a fully-plumbed filtered water system is, in fact, likely to offer a space-saving and cost-efficient solution.

How does the drinking water I provide help to establish the company’s image of corporate social responsibility?

You will have several different options when it comes to the sources of drinking water you provide. Some are more sustainable and eco-friendly than others.

The latter, of course, are those most likely to give your CSR a boost.

How can I save money by providing drinking water to my workforce?

Of course, there is a cost in providing any kind of amenity to staff – and drinking water is no exception.

But some water systems are significantly more cost-effective than others, if you are keen to save money in this area.

Options for providing water in your business

So, let’s take a closer look at some of the options you have to provide drinking water to your office.

Straight from the tap

It has already been mentioned that UK mains tap water is among the cleanest and safest anywhere in the world to drink.

By practically any measure, therefore, drinking water straight from a mains water tap is almost certain to meet the “wholesome” standards set out in the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations of 1992.

But you know – and most of your staff are also likely to know – that tap water continues to contain impurities. Some members of your workforce may even say they can taste those impurities, can smell them or are put off by the occasional discolouration that might be encountered.

A failure to keep such members of staff entirely happy with the water they have to drink might represent a missed opportunity to show that you are a caring employer. For similarly minded clients and visitors, however, it is likely to be your embarrassment.

Drawing drinking water straight from the tap may meet your basic legal obligations. But it does no more than that most basic of requirements. Neither staff nor visitors are likely to thank you for it.

Water coolers

The water cooler has long been a feature of the more "progressive" office. It features in many a film and television series as the centre of office gossip and bonding between colleagues. But take a closer look at those film and TV favourites, and you might soon realise just how old they are. Along with the water cooler itself, they probably appear outdated and long past their sell-by date.

For a good reason, too. The water cooler typically has a large bottle of filtered mineral water on top and simply passes through a cooling system to deliver the drink.

The water may well be fresh when first positioned on the cooler, but it may then sit there for days – or even weeks – until the bottle is empty. During that time, the water stagnates and is exposed to all manner of temperature changes, leaving it considerably less than fresh than when it started.

Bottled water

Tastes have become far more discerning, with a demand for fresh, filtered or mineral water. That may be the appeal of the single-use, individually packaged plastic bottle of water that you might see on many an office desk or kept in the office kitchen’s small fridge to keep cool.

Those same single-use plastic bottles, however, are one of the chief villains as far as pollution is concerned. Recycling efforts have been less than impressive, with the result that discarded plastic bottles are left in landfill, on hedgerows, beaches and in the ocean – where they may take literally hundreds of years to decompose.

For all the concern about sustainability, the UK is estimated to produce 35 million tons of single-use plastic bottles a year.

Yet manufacturers are resisting attempts to curb their use. One of the major plastics polluters is the multinational giant Coca-Cola – which also bottles mineral water. In a report by the BBC on the 21st of January 2020, a spokesman for the company insisted that its continued production of single-use plastic bottles is “what customers want” – since the bottles are light to carry and are resealable.

If you have staff who continue to favour such bottles, they may soon be outnumbered by their more environmentally aware colleagues – from whom you are likely to win little support for your apparent lack of concern for sustainability.

In the meantime, precious storage space is likely to be taken up by the crates of individual plastic bottles you need to find somewhere to keep – and fridges brimming with cooling water. If you are buying these for your workforce and clients to drink, you could be paying some 50p a litre or so for the product. We have a cost savings calculator where you could find out potentially the amount you could save when switching to a filtered water system.

Filtered water systems

With a relatively modest investment in your own in-house filtered water system, you may achieve a whole host of gains and benefits in one go:

  • by abandoning other options, you provide your workforce, board meetings and visiting clients with freshly filtered, pure, clean and great tasting water;
  • not only do you meet your legal obligations to provide ready access to pure, clean, “wholesome” water – cooled and either still or sparkling – but by keeping your staff adequately and pleasantly hydrated, you also help to maintain optimum productivity levels;
  • banishing the use of single-use plastic bottles shows that you care about the damaging waste that is created in attempts to dispose of them;
  • a filtered water system demonstrates your commitment to sustainability and shows that you are an eco-friendly employer – a quality likely to be applauded by your workforce and clients alike;
  • in other words, an in-house filtered water system may go a long way to establishing your corporate social responsibility – winning the greater loyalty of your workforce and perhaps plaudits from your customers;
  • with filtered water systems that come in a wide range of dispensing options – from freestanding units to table top, to undercounter systems – you are certain to find adequate space for their installation throughout your office;
  • the water may be provided in your own personalised, multiple-use glass bottles, which may bear your company logo and a message driving home the sustainability of the system – a daily reminder of your corporate social responsibility;
  • the nightmare of finding storage space for crates of individually packaged plastic bottles becomes a thing of the past; and
  • with the average cost of providing a litre of fresh filtered water from your own in-house system as low as around just 5p, you make an immediate cost-saving on the 50p or so each plastic bottle is likely to cost.

Summary

Access to clean drinking water is essential to health and wellbeing. Indeed, so necessary is that need that the United Nations regards it as a human right and, in the UK, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations of 1992 makes it your legal obligation to give the whole of your workforce ready access to clean drinking water.

The human body needs to take in water not only for its physical health but also for its mental wellbeing. The lack of sufficient water – dehydration – may lead to all manner of problems. Studies have shown that dehydration invariably leads to a fall in concentration, cognition and mental agility – all activities which directly relate to the productivity of your workforce.

The methods you adopt for ensuring ready access to clean drinking water in the office is likely to have an impact on the way your staff and customers you’re your corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR is an increasingly important measure these days of any company’s wider role in society – with both your workforce and your customers likely to be looking for clear and demonstrable qualities from your particular business.

When considering the various ways of ensuring ready access to drinking water in your offices, an in-house filtered water system that delivers pure, clean, great-tasting water may be a solution – as well as it showcasing your commitment to corporate social responsibility.

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