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Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1593
Working for the Professional Bus, Streetcar Operators, Mechanics and Support Personnel at Hart!
July 16, 2018
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bathroom breaks
Updated On: Aug 02, 2011

Employees in the transit, intercity bus and school bus industries, especially bus operators, face serious health problems due to the lack of immediate and regular access to restroom facilities. Tight run schedules and passenger demands too often force bus and other vehicle operators, to either 'hold it' when they need to use a restroom, or to refrain from eating or drinking fluids for long periods of time in order to avoid the need to use a restroom. As explained below, these actions can result in serious health problems and safety concerns for the traveling public. To avoid these health and safety problems, ATU members, particularly those operating buses or other vehicles, are strongly encouraged to stay well-hydrated and to take restroom breaks as needed.

Health Effects of 'Holding It'
Medical studies show the importance of regular urination. These studies also show that women generally need to void more frequently than men but that there are health hazards for both sexes. Adverse health effects that may result from voluntary urinary retention include:

  • urinary tract infections (UTI's)
  • chronic UTI's
  • renal damage
  • kidney infections
  • kidney failure
  • bladder cancer
  • prostate problems

In addition to the above problems, UTIs can lead to other complications if experienced during pregnancy, including low birth weight babies, who are at risk for additional health problems compared to normal weight infants. Similarly, medical evidence shows that health problems can result if individuals delay defecation. These problems include:

  • constipation
  • abdominal pain
  • diverticula
  • hemorrhoids

Health Effects of Dehydration
Drivers who refrain from drinking throughout the day, face risk of dehydration which can result in serious, and even potentially life-threatening, health effects, such as:

  • changes in the body's chemistry
  • kidney failure
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • dizziness or light-headedness
  • weakness
  • fever
  • heart palpitations

Safety Issues
Voluntary urine retention or delay of defecation can also represent a safety hazard to the riding and driving public since an operator who is forced to 'hold it' is distracted and more likely to make driving mistakes. The dehydration resulting from refraining from drinking can cause a driver to lose focus, become dizzy or distracted, posing a serious safety hazard.

Obstacles to Restroom Access or Breaks
Most transit employers claim that drivers can take a bathroom break whenever they need one, even if it makes the bus late. Despite this, drivers often forgo bathroom breaks due to their concerns about angering or inconveniencing passengers, facing subtle discipline for late runs, and embarrassment over having to request or announce a bathroom break to passengers and co-workers. In addition, restrooms may be difficult to access, there may be a lack of bus parking near facilities, restrooms may be too busy, or public facilities may be unsanitary, unsafe, or out-of-order.

Legal Requirements
Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards require employers to make toilet facilities available so that employees can use them when they need to do so. Mobile work crews, which include bus drivers, must be able to leave their work location 'immediately' for a 'nearby' toilet facility. These employees should be provided with protection equivalent to that provided to employees at fixed worksites (see 29 CFR 1910(c)(1)(I), as interpreted by OSHA's Interpretive Memorandum of April 6, 1998). Application of OSHA standards to state or local government employees, including employees of public transit authorities, differs by state. The ATU is working to pass state laws that provide minimum restroom breaks for commercial motor vehicle operators. Many collective bargaining agreements contain provisions addressing this issue, including provisions for set meal and restroom breaks, minimum time in-between runs, and access to designated toilet facilities. Talk to your local union representatives to find out what your rights are under your collective bargaining agreement and state or local laws.

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