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What are the Most Common Complaints Affecting UK Workplaces?

Providing safe, comfortable working conditions for staff is one of the most basic and essential requirements that any company needs to uphold. Not only is this a legal requirement, but doing so is also a common sense step to ensure that everyone within the business has everything they need to work productively.

Unfortunately, this is a standard that many UK workplaces are currently failing to meet. New research carried out by Bunkabin has indicated that thousands of British workers are regularly having to make complaints to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) about their day-to-day conditions, with a lack of basic facilities or essential welfare provisions continuing to affect workplaces across the country.

We asked the HSE to provide us with data on the complaints received by the regulator over working conditions between May 2016 and May 2019, revealing some eye-opening insights into the most common bugbears and issues faced by the UK workforce today.

Toilet facilities - the most common source of complaints

The HSE’s data revealed that the single most frequent subject of working condition complaints to the HSE is toilet facilities, with a total of 2,987 complaints received on this issue over the three-year period.

Given how essential well-maintained toilet facilities are to worker wellbeing, it makes sense that they would be a frequent topic of complaints, and this is a trend that managers should therefore be taking very seriously. The HSE has strict guidelines in place on the quality of workplace toilets and sanitary facilities, including:

  • Sanitary conveniences need to be located in readily accessible places
  • They must be adequately ventilated and lit
  • They must be kept in a clean and orderly condition
  • Separate facilities should be provided for men and women, or each convenience should be kept in a separate room with a door that can be locked from the inside

It’s also essential to remember that the number of available toilets and washbasins available on site needs to be dictated by both the size and gender breakdown of your workforce. The following rules apply for bathrooms intended for mixed use, or by women only:

Number of people at work

Number of toilets

Number of washbasins

1-5

1

1

6-25

2

2

26-50

3

3

51-75

4

4

76-100

5

5


Meanwhile, the rules for male-only toilets are as follows:

Number of men at work

Number of toilets

Number of urinals

1-15

1

1

16-30

2

1

31-45

2

2

46-60

3

2

61-75

3

3

76-90

4

3

91-100

4

4

A Bunkabin survey into the state of staff facilities from 2019 indicated that 47% of workers think their employers could do more to improve their toilet and shower facilities, while 28% said their workplaces feature toilets that are not separate and lockable, and 8% work in locations with no toilet facilities at all. Clearly, this is an area where British companies have plenty of room for improvement.

If your workplace is failing to meet these standards, it will be necessary for you to invest more in the upkeep of your on-site toilets, whether that means carrying out more regular cleaning, making essential repairs or renovating the facilities to make sure they are fit for purpose. Others may consider investing in a portable bathroom unit, such as Bunkabin’s Toilet Block or Deluxe Toilets, to help meet a temporary need.

Whatever the solution you choose, it’s vital to take this kind of complaints seriously - if you are not providing adequate toilet facilities, you could be putting your organisation at risk of regulatory punishment, in addition to the immediate impact this will be having on workers’ welfare.

Excessive noise - the second most common workplace complaint

The second most frequently-cited specific workplace complaint highlighted by the HSE’s data was excessive noise, with a total of 898 concerns raised to the regulator about this issue between 2016 and 2019.

This is a potentially very serious concern for UK workplaces, with HSE figures indicating that around 17,000 people across the country suffer deafness, ringing in the ears or other ear conditions as a direct result of excessive noise at work. Even when the level of noise is not high enough to cause damage, it can nevertheless be distracting and demoralising for staff to have to work in a loud workplace, as well as making it harder for workers to communicate effectively.

According to the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, all companies whose workers are regularly exposed to a noise level of 80 decibels or higher need to carry out a proper assessment of this risk and its potential impact on workers' health, providing them with information and training where necessary. When this rises to 85 decibels, hearing protection and hearing protection zones will need to be introduced, while 87 decibels is set as a hard exposure limit that cannot be crossed.

For many businesses, completely eliminating sources of workplace noise is likely to be impossible due to the nature of their business, but the sheer number of complaints about this matter highlight why it is important to minimise the problem as much as possible. Whether this means relocating workers away from the loudest areas or investing in better soundproofing for your facilities, it is important to take action - or your workers could end up suffering a long-term impact on their health.

A lack of dining facilities - the third most common complaint

Coming third in the list of common complaints to the HSE was a lack of proper on-site eating facilities, including canteens and restaurants. A total of 471 complaints were lodged on this topic between 2016 and 2019.

The HSE considers the provision of a space for workers to rest and eat their meals as an essential element of workplace welfare provision, with seats provided for workers to use during their breaks, without the need to carry on using their personal protective equipment.

When staff regularly eat their meals at work, providing a suitable place to do so means keeping the area in question free from the risk of contamination, with facilities in place for preparing or obtaining a hot drink, or to heat up food.

Permanent offices and workplaces will usually have facilities like this already, but the HSE data shows that more may need to be done to ensure they are being kept clean, well-maintained and well-stocked with everything that staff members need. If your amenities are outdated or your seating arrangements are insufficient for the size of your workforce, it could be having a real impact on the wellbeing of your workers.

Once again, Bunkabin’s 2019 survey offers evidence that some UK businesses are not meeting these basic responsibilities, with 6% of workplaces failing to provide access to clean drinking water, while 7% of workplaces failed to offer a seating area in their staff rooms.

Temporary work sites often face the greatest difficulties in ensuring they have the right dining facilities in place, which is why many turn to portable hire options - such as Bunkabin’s Junior Diner units - as a means of providing the necessary cooking and refrigeration facilities.

Damp - the fourth most common complaint

The only other workplace complaint that produced more than 100 complaints to the HSE over the three-year period was damp, with a total of 463 complaints received by the regulator about damp-related issues.

Damp can affect the health and wellbeing of staff in a variety of different ways. For example, damp and wet surfaces are more likely to be slippery, which contributes to making slips, trips and falls the single most common cause of workplace injuries in the UK. This is why it is crucial for companies to make sure they are doing all they can to keep their surfaces clean and well-maintained, with steps taken to prevent surfaces from becoming wet and hazardous wherever possible.

However, this is not the only health issue associated with dampness, as damp conditions can also give rise to the development of mould, posing a long-term risk to respiratory health. If your workplace is experiencing a mould problem, this is a sanitary issue that needs to be dealt with immediately, with attention paid to future sanitary processes to prevent this from happening again.

Other frequent issues

The HSE’s data for 2016 to 2019 also indicated a number of other workplace complaints that were brought up by unhappy staff members, with the regulator receiving:

  • 72 complaints over unhygienic conditions
  • 62 complaints over a lack of safety signage
  • 36 complaints over unsanitary conditions
  • 2 complaints over the workplace being too hot
  • 1 complaint about cramped conditions

The prevalence of all of these problems goes to highlight just how diligent businesses need to be to provide their staff with safe, acceptable conditions that minimise risks, promote wellbeing and facilitate a good working environment. There are a lot of ways to get this wrong - and numerous legal mechanisms for holding companies to account.

This is why it’s useful for companies to look over some of these common workplace complaints, before reviewing their own facilities and policies to make sure they are on the right track. By taking proactive steps to improve their own practices, and investing in high-quality on-site solutions such as those from Bunkabin, UK businesses can ensure they give their own staff nothing to complain about.

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