Forecasts have been calling for hot sunny days, for weeks now, we had seen one of the hottest early May bank holidays. On twitter meanwhile one of the main discussions have been about maintaining hydration levels whilst working. I have always found some ambiguity about whether people can or cannot drink water whilst working FoH. So, we launched a quick survey to find out if people were allowed to drink water whilst at work, this was by no means scientific. 70 people answered, and the good news is 63 people said they did have access to water, that means however 7 people did not. Doesn’t sound like much? Only 10% in some senses yes, it is a small amount, but in other ways its quite significant. If we scaled it up to represent all museum professionals (TBR 2015) that’s about 3817 people who can’t drink whilst working. This is by no means an accurate study it was never meant to be, but it asks questions none the less. The fact that we have anyone in museums who is not able to have a drink whilst working is not on. What situation can anyone justify banning water on the person or refusing to allow short breaks for people working to have a drink especially for people whose job it is to communicate to the public.
FoH talk a lot, that is part of their job, and it does require water… and to be healthy we need to maintain hydration including between breaks, our need for water doesn’t correspond to breaks. The NHS recommends 1.2 litres of water per day and more on hot days (NHS Choices 2011) whilst the the European Food Safety Authority recommends a total of 2.0 – 2.5 litres per person (National Hydration Council 2016). We need water regularly; the NHS recommends if you feel any symptoms of dehydration that you have a drink of water (NHS 2017). A 2% change of body weight as a result of dehydration can influence mood, fatigue and awareness/alertness (National Hydration Council 2016). So, a lack of water is clearly not good for health reasons and for our ability to work to our full potential… But it won’t be good for your work place well-being and the relationship with colleagues, lack of water can cause people to feel irritable as seen above but also it will impact the relationship between employee and management, not allowing access to water will feel oppressive and unfair. In my life time in the UK we have seen schools allow water bottles into the class room, because it can improve learning as the student is remaining hydrated and improves cognitive function (National Hydration Council 2017) and has shown to improve exam results (Sellgren 2012). Access to water is compulsory for school children in England, Scotland and Wales (National Hydration Council 2016). So why would anyone think it is a good idea to restrict access to water, it is simply shooting yourself in the foot, it is not healthy, it reduces are ability to work, damages well-being and creates an oppressive work place atmosphere.
What reasons would we ban water and our they really worth it? The first two that come to mind are, the perception of visitor service and the needs of conservation. Firstly, we are still people we all need to drink, I’m sure the visitors are (even if you ask them not to) even if you don’t want your team to drink in public, a short break is all it takes. Museums are changing, the pre-conceptions which have weighed museums down are falling at the wayside, the perception of FoH is changing we are becoming more focused on excellent visitor service and making the museum accessible to all, having access to water will contribute to a FoH team which gives excellent service. What about conservation? Humidity does cause damage, in the unlikely circumstances that there was a spill humidity would rise but, in many cases, collections are in well-sealed display cases within their own environment and many others are used to fluctuations to some extent e.g. historic houses or in unsealed cases. FoH care just about the collection they make accessible as anyone else in the museum and are aware of the conservation needs of the collection and should be part of any collection care strategy, this includes drinking in museums alongside monitoring etc. If conservation is still the concern then all you need to do is step away for a short break, five minutes or less is all that is needed, it isn’t much. Many of those galleries will host after hours events where wine both red and white are flowing so liquids are allowed in many of these spaces…. In these cases, we have to be careful that we are not creating one rule for some and one others.
What does legilisation say? (please note this is not legal advice)
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE 2011) states that drinking water must be provided and that it is:
- (1) An adequate supply of wholesome drinking water shall be provided for all persons at work in the workplace.
- (2) Every supply of drinking water required by paragraph (1) shall—
- (a)be readily accessible at suitable places; and
- (b)be conspicuously marked by an appropriate sign where necessary for reasons of health or safety.
- (3) Where a supply of drinking water is required by paragraph (1), there shall also be provided a sufficient number of suitable cups or other drinking vessels unless the supply of drinking water is in a jet from which persons can drink easily.
More information about health and safety can be can be found in The 1992 Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations Act .
The Health and Safety Authority (national body for Ireland) (Health and Safety Authority 2007) Authority states in the Guide to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 Chapter 1 of Part 2: Workplace that
- an adequate supply of potable drinking water is provided and maintained at suitable points conveniently accessible to all employees
The Health and Safety Authority goes on to say in regard to the above that
- The employer is required to provide an adequate supply of wholesome drinking water at locations within the workplace that are accessible to employees. The number of locations would be dependent upon the size of the workplace, the number of persons employed, the nature of the work and any requirement for the employee to remain at the workstation for sustained periods. Where drinking fountains are used, they should be of such design that the nozzle is shielded to protect it from contamination by the mouths of users.
More information about the workplace can be found in Guide to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 Chapter 1 of Part 2: Workplace.
Water can increase productivity, increase cognitive function, maintains health and enables a FoH team to reach their potential. Do we need access to water on the person or via short breaks, Yes.
By William Tregaskes
1992 No.3004, 1992, 1992 No.3004 Health and Saftey: The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, Online http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1992/3004/made [accessed 11.6.18]
Health and Safety Authority, 2011, Guide to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work(General Application) Regulations 2007 Chapter 1 of Part 2: Workplace, Online http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Publications_and_Forms/Publications/General_Application_Regulations/gen_apps_workplace.pdf [accessed 11.6.18]
HSE, 2011, Welfare at Work: Guidance for Employers on Welfare Provisions, Online http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg293.pdf [accessed 11.6.18]
National Hydration Council 2016, Hydration in the Workplace, online http://www.naturalhydrationcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/NHC-Hydration-in-Workplace-fact-sheet-FINAL1.pdf [accessed 11.6.18]
National Hydration Council, 2017, Hydration for Children, online http://www.naturalhydrationcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/NHC-Children-Hydration-Factsheet-FINAL.pdf [accessed 11.6.18]
NHS Choices, 2011, Six to eight glasses of water ‘still best’, National Health Service, Online: https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/six-to-eight-glasses-of-water-still-best/#how-much-water-does-nhs-choices-advise-people-to-drink [accessed 11.6.18]
NHS 2016, Dehydration, Online https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dehydration/ [accessed 11.6.18]
Sellgren K, 2012, Drinking water improves exam grades, research suggests, BBC News, Online https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-17741653 [accessed 11.6.18]
TBR 2015, The Economic Impact of Museums in England, Newcastle https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/download-file/Economic_Impact_of_Museums_in_England_report.pdf [accessed 11.6.18]