No Water - So My Employer Gave Me The Day Off

A typical Monday morning until…

It was 9:15 and time for my morning coffee break. As usual, it was going to start off with a stop at the restroom and then off to the break room to meet friends and talk about last night’s reality TV show.

On my way, I noticed a few supervisors huddled in the hallway with the facilities manager, and as I got closer to my destination, they told me I couldn’t go in because of a problem with the water pressure. They assured me everything would be fine in a few minutes. I’m no fan of having my morning routine interrupted, but we had a lot to cover with last night’s show, so I decided to visit the restroom later.

But when my break was done, things got worse! There were signs taped to all of the restroom doors -‘Out of Order’. This was simply not the time for this nonsense. (I probably shouldn’t have had all that coffee, because I was getting uncomfortable.) Not only were the restrooms closed, but we were also told we couldn’t use the water dispenser or turn on the break room sink. My cubicle mates worried the cafeteria staff might not be able to prepare lunch. And lunch was something not to me missed.

That’s when I noticed the leaders in our office gathered in a conference room. Some were on their cell phones and others were busy on their laptops – but I could tell they were all pretty concerned. The facilities manager soon came rushing in and everyone stopped what they were doing to listen. Within minutes, they all came back out and told us the building was being evacuated. We could all go home with pay, because our building’s water pressure was too low and we had a problem with our main water line. Yessss!

It could have been avoided

As a business owner, you may be wondering what happened and how you can avoid a costly situation and loss of productivity like this. As it turns out, the building’s facilities manager decided to put off the annual commercial plumbing maintenance appointment for a few months, explaining that the budget was tight, and everything seemed to be in good working order. What the manager didn’t know was that the main water line had been damaged during a parking lot paving project and was worsening over time – something that could have been detected and repaired as part of that annual commercial plumbing maintenance long before the water pressure became critically low and employees enjoyed a spontaneous day off.

While there are no laws that mandate what to do in a low water pressure or water main break situation, employers must consider several factors including employee safety and comfort. In many communities, there are local codes that require buildings to have operational fire sprinkler systems. In the event of a water main break, water or water pressure may not be adequate to deliver water when smoke or fire is detected. Due to potential safety issues, employees should be sent home as a precaution.

A thing or two about OSHA

Additionally, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards require employers to make toilet facilities available to employees and cannot impose unreasonable restrictions on employee use of the facilities. According to OSHA standard number 1910.141, employers must ensure there is enough water pressure available so that toilets can be cleanly and effectively flushed and hand washing facilities are functional to avoid the risk of creating a health hazard.

What can you do to prevent a serious situation like this?

Your local commercial plumbers recommend annual preventative plumbing maintenance for a thorough review of interior and exterior equipment, fixtures and water lines.

Paid days off for all employees followed by a lack of production versus the cost of annual preventative maintenance.

Which one cost less?