As businesses now look to return to work you may be thinking of making alterations to your workspace.
When carrying out any proposed alterations it is important to remember that you may require permission to make those alterations from the freeholder. Additionally in most cases Building Regulations require that you apply for consent in advance for any alterations.
The Building Regulations define a material alteration as work which will temporarily or permanently affect the ongoing compliance of the building, service or fitting with the requirements relating to structure, fire or access to and use of buildings; and also the energy efficiency of the building.
We have teamed up with our friends at Sagal Group and produed a guide to some of the key challenges in altering your workspace, to make sure that you don’t fall foul of the regulations.
The first thing to remember is that you must make an application in advance of carrying out the work and submit drawings of the existing and proposed layouts for assessment. Using the Local Authority Inspectors typically takes 5-8 weeks for a decision so if you are in a hurry you can use an Approved Inspector to speed up the process, as they can check the plans within 5-10 working days and in some cases you could even make a start a week after appointing them.
In most cases the key issues you will face relate to Fire Safety, Toilets and Disabled Access so we will quickly pick up on those issues in this guide, but always speak to the Building Inspector to make sure on your specific scheme.
Changing the layout of the workspace will almost certaintly affect the means of escape in case of fire. This could simply be things like holding open or automating a fire door to improve circulation without the need to touch handles. You might be considering removing or installing partitions which mean that escape signs, emergency lighting or fire alarms also need to be moved.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider at this stage is the effect on escape distances of changing the layout of desks or operating a one way system for the stairs etc. Most workspaces will be designed on the principal of 2 directional escape. As a result you are allowed to be 45m away from a fire exit, if you reduce this to a single direction then the maximum distance reduces down to just 18m. Creating a one way system can significantly increase this distance.
When complete also remember to update your fire risk assessment and ensure that you still have the correct number of fire wardens and first aiders.
In order to maintain safe distancing you may need to reduce the number of toilets or restrict access to them. The regulations set out the minimum number of toilets for the proposed occupancy and simply reducing the number of toilets in proportion to the number of workers doesn’t always result in sufficient numbers.
The guidance for toilet provision is set out in the table below.
|Number of persons at work||Number of WCs||Number of washbasins|
|1 to 5||1||1|
|6 to 15||2||2|
|16 to 30||3||3|
|31 to 45||4||4|
|46 to 60||5||5|
|61 to 75||6||6|
|76 to 90||7||7|
|91 to 100||8||8|
Above 100 persons require: 8, plus 1 WC and washbasin for every unit or fraction of a unit of 25 persons.
Every male toilet should have at least one WC. Considerations should be give to the provision of privacy screens between urinals.
|Number of persons at work||Number of WCs||Number of urinals||Number of washbasins|
|1 to 15||1||1||1|
|16 to 30||2||1||2|
|31 to 45||2||2||2|
|46 to 60||3||2||3|
|61 to 75||3||3||3|
|76 to 90||4||3||4|
|91 to 100||4||4||4|
Above 100 persons require: 4, plus 1 WC, urinal and washbasin for every unit or fraction of a unit of 50 persons.
We have also created a complete guide to office and workplace washrooms.
When altering the workspace don’t forget that you must still ensure that the revised layouts are accessible to all, and that you don’t discriminate against people with disabilities. The use of a one way system using a lift up and a stair down for example could be discriminatory against a wheelchair user.
Installing a wrap around or continuous perspex screen at receptions could discriminate against people with hearing impairment unless you install an induction loop, and would still need a lower section for a wheelchair user. Also bear in mind that the use of temporary signage could be an issue for the visually impaired and that braille creates another surface that would need cleaning.