The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA") currently has no published rules directly regulating employee hydration on work-sites. OSHA has, however, created a series of non-mandatary guidelines that address the issue. These guidelines, attached, address employee hydration as just one, albeit important, element in the larger goal of protecting workers from the effects of heat. OSHA exhorts employers to ensure the availability of sufficient quantities of cool water in conspicuous locations near the work area and numerous scheduled water breaks. The guidelines also suggest that workers should be conditioned to regularly drink small amounts of water throughout the workday to retain good hydration levels.
While the guidelines are advisory in nature, an employer should be aware of existing OSHA standards that provide obligations indirectly affecting the issue of employee hydration. The broadest of these is the “General Duty Clause." The General Duty Clause, be found in §5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, requires employers to ensure that their place of employment is “free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees." According to the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, the General Duty Clause is invoked when four elements exist.
There must be a hazard
The hazzard must be recognized
The hazzard causes or is likely to cause serious harm or death
The hazzard must be correctable.
Exposure to the threat of heat stress has been cited as a hazard under the General Duty Clause and, therefore, adherence to the OSHA guidelines on worker hydration would seem to be advisable so as to avoid liability under §5(a)(1).
OSHA also states that an employer has the obligation to provide portable water under the sanitation standards of the Code of Federal Regulations. “Portable water" is defined as “ water that meets the standards for drinking purposes of the State or local authority having jurisdiction, or water that meets the quality standards prescribed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. 29 CFR 1910.141(a)(2).
In light of the General Duty Clause and OSHA’s “portable water" requirements, it is strongly advisable for employers to implement a hydration plan and always ensure the ready availability of water on the job site.