Things you have never thought about – Public restroom regulations around the world

Although most people do not give much thought to the clean accessible public restrooms, there is a long history of changes and advances to promote public health and safety in the workplace and other public settings. Under the American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA) public restroom signage must indicate if the restroom is for men, women, unisex and/or handicapped. In a public school the signs probably say boys and girls.


Who is Responsible?

The American’s With Disabilities Act, U. S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) state that no employee shall suffer from adverse health that can result from not having accessible toilet facilities. The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), however, ignores these regulations and concerns even though they are mandated by federal law to ensure that public facilities are available outside the work place.

Because of the failure of DHHS to enforce existing laws, public toilet facilities do not have to be made available for students in public schools, public transit such as trains, subways, airport terminals, airplanes and government buildings. However, people who work in these facilities are ensured that they will have a public toilet available. In other words, it is possible that a school can deny students the use of a toilet but have to provide one for the faculty and staff.

This is a very important public health issue according to the American Restroom Association. The ARA is an advocacy group concerned with the public health and safety issues that arise when public use of toilets is denied. DHHS primary function is the health and well-being of all people, toilet facilities are a major public health concern.


Signage Laws in the United States

Signage for public toilets in the work place must be non-glare, easy to read and understand. A figure of a man or woman helps non-English speaking people to understand which restroom is the proper one for their use. Signs come in a variety of colors and should have Grade 2 Braille on the sign for those who are visually impaired. Other necessary signs include “Employees must wash hands before returning to work.” “Please flush after using” and “Put Trash in its Place” and “Pitch In”. All signs that are necessary for maintaining a proper public toilet in a workplace environment can be found at


Public Toilets Around the World

Although pay toilets were outlawed in the US in the 1970’s as sexual discrimination against women, paying for use is still popular in many European cities. It is not uncommon to find change machines in the public toilet and some even take credit cards. There is usually an attendant who expects a tip. Gift cards are available for that person who has everything.

Public toilets are not often marked with signage as they are in the U.S. Although, many public buildings such as the Eiffel Tower, for example, has a public toilet on almost every floor, it is sometimes difficult to find.

Plumbing is common in North America and Europe, but not necessarily available in the Middle East and Asia. China’s public toilets often consist of two planks of wood crossing a stream. Be careful not to drink water that has come from the same source.
In the Middle-East it is not uncommon to find a public toilet that is nothing more than a room with holes in the floor.

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