How to Keep Your Water Coolers Safe

Water Cooler Safety

Before you quench your thirst, know these water cooler safety tips!

When working in the scorching heat, with sweat dripping down your face, the first thing you want to do is grab an ice-cold thirst quencher or go to the water cooler to fill your cup with liquid bliss, right? I bet the last thing on your mind is the possibility that germs and unwanted growth could contaminate the contents in the water cooler at your construction site.

The reality is water cooler safety is no joke and should be taken seriously, especially since OSHA requires an adequate supply of potable drinking water to be provided in all places of employments (OSHA 1926.51(a)(1)).

What Are Water Dispenser Health Risks?

Although it's not a pleasant thought, your drinking water cooler can harbor some downright distressing contaminants. A water cooler can turn into a hazard when not handled correctly. Drinking water from contaminated sources is frequently responsible for the spread of diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and dysentery.

A drinking water cooler that is not properly managed might contain any of the following harmful contaminants:

  • Algae: Light and water are all you need for unappealing, slimy green water.
  • Heterotrophs: Microorganisms such as molds and yeasts lurk in dirty water, along with bacteria that cause Legionnaires and Pontiac disease.
  • Chemicals: Insufficient flushing of sanitizing agents can leave enough residue in the water to cause problems for employees.

Bacteria can enter the water dispenser at various points in the bottle exchange process and are incredibly well-adapted for survival in almost any environment. For instance, some bacteria actually feed on the seals and rubber components inside the dispenser. 

When you change or refill the bottle, the water dispenser health risks increase, since exposure to the air introduces bacteria. Along the same lines, when anyone touches the interior components of the water cooler, bacteria and other contaminants are left behind.

How Can Businesses Reduce Water Dispenser Health Risks?

The simplest way to reduce water dispenser health risks is to regularly maintain the system. Ensuring employees have access to potable water, according to the OSHA sanitation checklist, is a start. OSHA requires that:

  • Clean drinking water should be readily available to all employees.
  • Water coolers must be clean and placed in areas away from possible contamination.
  • Water coolers must have a lockable tap to reduce contamination.

To ensure workers are drinking from sanitized water coolers and know how to clean a water cooler, inspect supply sources before employees arrive on a job site, and determine a regular cleaning schedule – not less than once per week. After inspection and cleaning the water cooler, any water cooler found unsafe should be removed from use. A warning sign alone will not provide sufficient protection.

This handy water cooler cleaning checklist will keep your water dispenser safe for you and your employees while it satisfies your thirst.
  1. The job site foreman should pick one to two people to maintain the water cooler. Anyone in charge of keeping a clean water cooler should maintain a high level of personal hygiene.
  2. When filling the water cooler, select an area that’s free of dust, insects or other environmental contaminants so particles don’t contaminate the cooler. Avoid using the ground or floor when filling the water cooler.
  3. Use only food-grade approved water hoses to fill coolers (garden hoses are not approved).
  4. After filling the water cooler with water and ice, place the lid on properly and seal, date, and identify contents with Potable Water Cooler Tape.
  5. Never drink directly from the container or open the top of the lid to check the level of the water. Airborne contaminants could get into the water and make the water unsafe to drink.
  6. Provide a supply of paper cups next to each water cooler for workers to drink out of. Additionally, place garbage cans in the area for trash.

When water coolers have been inspected and their contents are ready to be consumed, ensure workers can easily identify it by placing a Potable Water Cooler Label on the outside.

To help you comply with OSHA 1926.51(b)(2), “There shall be no cross-connection, open or potential between a system furnishing potable water and a system furnishing non-potable water,” use a Water Cooler Tether Lockout to prevent the possibility of cross-contaminating water.

By following all of these useful water cool safety tips, your workers will fully trust the water you provide is safe to use.


National Safety Council Drinking Water on Construction Jobs

OSHA Sanitation