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Charles Marks, Managing Director of Fresh Workspace gives his perspective on washroom parity, ensuring that you have enough female facilities to fulfil your legal requirement.

Some of our most important impressions of a building are formed in one of three key public spaces. Loos, lifts and lobbies are the places workplace designers and managers can gain crucial ground in the battle for the hearts and minds of employees, customers, suppliers and whoever else happens to find themselves on their premises. When it comes to the provision of washrooms in both our workplaces and public spaces, the loudest voices of complaint most commonly arise from women, who always seem to endure the worst of the queues. And the problem has been with us for a very long time.

At the Great Exhibition of 1851, the engineer George Jennings (who was also instrumental in introducing public conveniences to London and other cities and helped to develop the modern WC) was tasked with providing large scale ‘elimination facilities’ for the public for the first time. The toilets he introduced were reportedly used some 830,000 times over the 141 days of the exhibition, leading Jennings to acknowledge: ‘the necessity of making similar provisions for the public whenever large numbers are congregated to alleviate the sufferings which must be endured by all, but more especially by females by account of the want of them.’

The provision of toilets for women generally remains an emotive subject. If you just take the subject of female urinals, which are mooted regularly, often to coincide during an outdoor event such as Glastonbury Festival, which focuses people’s minds on the potential horror of providing temporary lavatory facilities for tens of thousands of people, you can see how important this is to people.


In such extreme circumstances you can see a magnified problem of the whole issue of the provision of washrooms, and those for women in particular. It’s an emotive issue because it’s not just about functionality. If that were true you wouldn’t get the mixed response to the idea of women using urinals, which is a reasonably practical solution to some of the problems of toilet provision. Our response to these things, and especially that of women, is also to do with culture, privacy, intimacy, decency and hygiene.



No wonder the issue surrounding the number of toilets available to women in our buildings has been a source of debate around the world. In some cases it has gone political. In 2005, New York introduced the Restroom Equity Bill. It was an election year, and the issue, dubbed Potty Parity by local newspapers, became a significant feminist issue, driven by Mayor Bloomberg. The Bill was less about parity however and more about recognising that women need more toilets than men so the legislation required a 2-to-1 ratio for women’s toilet facilities in new public venues including, bars, restaurants and concert halls although venue owners can circumvent the rule by making all such facilities unisex.

In the UK, potty parity is enthroned to a certain extent by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare)

Regulations 1992, supported by a Code of Practice which gives precise details regarding the numbers of toilets and hand basins and so on based on the numbers and sexes of employees. Again the regulations try to ensure that women have access to more washrooms than men.

Changes in the way offices are designed and managed is also having an effect on the provision of washroom facilities, as buildings accommodate more people and make increased use of shared space. For example, the most recent update to the British Council for Offices Specification Guide considers the idea of workplace density as a key factor in providing people with appropriate facilities as well as workstations. Toilet provision had increased slightly in the latest issue from the old 2009 guide.

Such regulations are a useful guide. But it’s always important to look at the wider picture when looking into the provision of these facilities. It’s essential to understand the culture of the organisation or bar or restaurant or venue before anything is specified. It would never be wise to go below the stated provision but it is often possible to make a good case for providing more and better facilities than those stipulated by regulations. Less is definitely not more when you’re talking about washrooms.

The UK regulations also touch on the unisex issue; yet another feasible but tricky solution that has been thrown around for some time but still seems to be unresolved. Whilst UK regulations do not specifically mention unisex toilets, they do state ‘specific facilities for males and females may need to be provided, except where each toilet is in a

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