Canteens and Rest Rooms for Employees-Cooperation, Employee's Duty Of

Canteens and Rest Rooms for Employees

Key points

  • Whether or not employers are legally-bound to provide their workers with dedicated canteens or rests room will depend in large part on the type of activity or process in which an employer is engaged. Regulation 25(5) of the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992 - that apply to every workplace - states that 'suitable and sufficient facilities shall be provided for persons at work to eat meals where meals are regularly eaten in the workplace'.

  • By way of explanation, the accompanying Approved Code of Practice points out that 'seats in work areas can be counted as eating facilities provided they are in a sufficiently clean place and there is a suitable surface on which to place food. Eating facilities', it continues, 'should include a facility for preparing or obtaining a hot drink, such as an electric kettle, a vending machine or a canteen'. Furthermore, 'workers who work during hours or at places where hot food cannot be obtained in, or reasonably near to, the workplace should be provided with the means for heating their own food'.


    Copies of the code of practice referred to above (titled: Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare: Approved Code of Practice and Guidance Notes (L24) (ISBN 0 11 886333 9) can be purchased from HSE Books (Telephone: 01787 881165; Fax: 01787 313995).

  • Although there are circumstances in which employers must provide a separate canteen or mess room where their workers can take their meals (see Factory workers below), there is no legislation that requires them to provide a full catering service.


    The expression workplace means 'any premises or part of premises which are not domestic premises and are made available to any person as a place of work, and includes any place within the premises to which such person has access while at work and any room, lobby, corridor, staircase, road or other place used as a means of access to and egress from the workplace or where facilities are provided for use in conjunction with the workplace other than a public road' (ibid. regulation 2(1)).

All workers

  • All workers who take their meals on their employers' premises are entitled to do so in relative comfort and in hygienic surroundings, seated on chairs or benches, with a sufficient number of tables or desk tops on which to place their food. Where a separate canteen, mess room or eating area is provided, it too must be furnished with a sufficient number of tables and chairs (with backrests) and must comply with current food safety and hygiene regulations. Furthermore, the employer must nominate a person (or persons) whose job it is to keep the room or area clean and tidy.

Office workers

  • Regulation 25 does not give office workers the right to a separate eating area or canteen. Most office workers have a desk and chair and very little face-to-face contact with the public. Under the 1992 Regulations, a chair counts as a 'suitable eating facility' provided it is in a sufficiently clean place (such as an office) and there is a suitable surface (such as a desk top) on which an employee can place his or her food. Even so, the employer must provide a facility (such as an electric kettle or vending machine) for preparing or obtaining a hot drink. And, if his (or her) employees work at times or in places where hot food cannot be readily obtained, he must also provide a small cooker, hotplate or microwave oven in (or on) which his employees can heat their own food.

Shop assistants

  • Shop assistants spend most of their time on their feet. Whether or not they have their main meals on the premises, their employer must set aside a rest room or screened-off area where they can relax or 'put their feet up' during their morning and afternoon tea breaks or when business is slow. The rest room (or area) must be furnished with a sufficient number of chairs (with backrests) and tables, and be equipped with an electric kettle or a hot drinks vending machine. If there is no nearby cafĂ©, snack bar or pub where they can readily buy hot food, their employer must also provide a hot plate (or a small cooker) on or in which they can heat their own food.

Factory workers

  • Workers in factories, workshops, warehouses and the like are entitled to separate eating facilities (away from their work areas) if their food is likely to be contaminated by dust, water, fumes or hazardous substances, or if they work in premises or are engaged in processes where eating, drinking (or smoking) is prohibited by regulations made under (or saved by) the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Their employer must provide an electric kettle or hot drinks vending machine and, if any employees work at night or in a place where it is difficult or inconvenient to purchase a hot meal, a hot plate, cooker or microwave oven in (or on) which they can heat their own food.

  • Eating, drinking, smoking, etc are currently prohibited in workplaces regulated by:

    • the Work in Compressed Air Regulations 1996; - the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002; - the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992; - the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002;

    • the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002; and

    • the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999.

Pregnant employees and nursing mothers

  • Nowadays, every workplace must be equipped with suitable rest facilities for use by employees who are pregnant or breastfeeding including a place where they can lie down when the need arises. The facilities should be situated close to (or as near as reasonably possible to) female toilets and washrooms (regulation 25(4), Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992. Common sense will dictate what is suitable (or practicable) for one workplace and what is unsuitable in relation to another. In a large factory, office block, hotel or department store, an employer would be expected to set aside a small well-ventilated room furnished with one or more beds or reclining chairs and equipped with a toilet and washbasin. In a small establishment (where space is at a premium), a curtained-off area with a comfortable reclining chair (and some guarantee of privacy) would probably suffice.


    A free HSE leaflet titled Occupational health aspects of pregnancy (MA6, 1989) is available on request from the Health & Safety Executive's 'Freeleaflet'' line (Tel: 01787 881165 or Fax: 01787 313995).

Passive smoking

  • Regulation 25(3) of the 1992 Regulations (see above) also imposes a duty on employers to take such steps as are necessary to ensure that their employees can retire to a room or area where they can take a rest break, drink or eat their sandwiches (or whatever) in relative comfort - without experiencing discomfort from tobacco smoke. If there are no separate facilities for smokers and nonsmokers, the rest room must be designated a 'No Smoking' area. Although employers may be prepared to set aside a room or special area for the use of smokers, they are not legally-bound to do so. Indeed, in a small office or shop, where there is no separate rest room, and in which staff are expected or accustomed to taking their meals and rest breaks at their desks (or in a curtained-off area at 'the back of the shop'), the employer will have little choice but to introduce a 'No Smoking' rule throughout his premises.


    The issues associated with passive smoking in the workplace are reviewed in a free HSE leaflet titled Passive smoking at work (INDG 63), available from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 6FS; Tel: 01787 881165; or Fax: 01787 313995. In a consultative document titled Proposals for an Approved Code of Practice on passive smoking at work (published on 29 October 1999), the Health & Safety Commission propose, inter alia, that the risk assessment compulsorily carried out by all employers in accordance with the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 should include an assessment of the risks from passive smoking at work to the health of people who already suffer from asthma or chronic bronchitis. From this assessment, employers should determine what their options are for controlling exposure to environmental smoke, such as: banning smoking in the workplace (either completely or partially); physically segregating non-smokers from tobacco smoke; providing adequate ventilation; or adopting a system of work that reduces the time an employee is exposed to environmental tobacco smoke.

Offences and penalties

  • Non-compliance with health and safety legislation is a criminal offence which could lead to prosecution and a fine of up to £20,000. In some circumstances, the offending employer is liable to a fine of an unlimited amount and/or imprisonment for a period of up to two years.


Facilitator said…
My daughter works in a town centre gets half an hour for lunch the company employs around 100 people they have a kettle and a fridge but no facility to warm up food so that means no microwave no oven but has a vending machine. Plus she is on a halal dietary need. Should the employer provide a microwave or an oven facility so she can have hot food over lunch?

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