Feb 16, 2019 Last Updated 2:53 PM, Feb 5, 2019

What the UK wants from public and workplace cubical design unveiled

Published in Product Innovation
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Disabled toilets are subject to a range of suggested regulations to ensure public cubicles provide adequate space for accessibility and wheelchair manoeuvrability. Yet when it comes to disabled toilet usage – specifically, who should be able to access them and when – we find rules of a different nature are often broken. Laminate manufacturer Formica Group conducted a survey to assess the opinions and habits of those who use Britain’s public and workplace toilets. Sharing the findings below, Joe Bell from Formica Group also examines how the study can inform future designs of standard cubicles.


Informed by a survey of 2000 adults in the UK, the ‘Lifting the Lid on Washrooms’ White Paper reveals that 18% of respondents believe disabled toilets should be off-limits to those without a disability. But more than half think it’s fine to use them if there are long queues elsewhere.

It’s not just convenience that is encouraging the use of disabled toilets by non-disabled users; cleanliness ranks highly too. A fifth feel it’s acceptable to use a disabled toilet when it is cleaner than the standard cubicle. Similarly, 15% agree that, in instances where non-disabled users want more cubicle space, it is permissible to use a disabled toilet.

The notion that disabled toilets are cleaner and more spacious than standard toilets comes from the belief that they are used less frequently. With lack of privacy being a major concern for 41% of adults using public toilets, the appeal of the sanctuary offered by disabled toilets is understandable.

Even when people are in a cubicle, the data finds they still feel vulnerable, with nearly half of respondents saying they are conscious of large gaps between the doors and its frame and between the floor and base of the cubicle door. 22% say they dislike using toilets outside their home specifically for this reason.

There is a clear preference for more room to be given to people; additional space should, therefore, be allocated to cubicle design. The desire for larger cubicles goes hand in hand with the desire for increased privacy – part of the solution here lies in specifying surfacing material in larger dimensions.

Toilet regulations and specifications

Regulation states that disabled toilets must be at least 2220mm long by 1500mm wide and have a door 900mm wide which can open 950mm outwards. Basins need to be positioned so that hands can be washed while still seated on the toilet; grab rails must also be installed at specific heights.

When it comes to standard toilet cubicle design, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says an SME employing between one to five mixed-sex staff needs at least one toilet and one basin; for six to 25 staff it’s two toilets and two basins; for 26 to 50 staff it’s three of each; for businesses with 51 to 75 staff, four of each are needed; while a business of 76 to 100 needs five of each.

Schools have their own washroom guidelines, with the recommendation that there should be at least one toilet per 10 pupils for those under the age of five, while for those aged 11+ there must be one washbasin per toilet. In special needs schools, there should be one toilet for every 20 pupils, regardless of age.

Cubicle sizes are also strict; all standard (non-disabled) cubicles must have a minimum of 450mm-diameter manoeuvring space within the cubicle, with the recommendation that the standard dimensions are 850mm wide by 1500mm deep. Survey respondents did not like the large gaps they find in public or workplace toilets, even though they don’t need to be as big as they are (regulations merely state a door should be able to be released from the outside).

When it comes to specific facilities a washroom must have, the regulations are vague, and respondents seem to signal that this vagueness (and its interpretation by employers) is not meeting their expectations. Legally, workplace toilets should simply have ‘enough soap or other washing agents’ and offer ‘a means of drying hands such as paper towels or a hot air dryer’. However, respondents feel this is not good enough. A majority (61%) want hands-free flushing (not legally required); more than a third (34%) also want improved hand dryers; while 22% want bigger soap dispensers.

There’s one key area too that the legislation overlooks entirely, but which adults seem to care about a great deal – noise. Using the toilet (particularly at work) can feel embarrassing for people if they feel they can be heard in the next cubicle or even in the corridor outside. A significant 32% say they want better soundproofing. So fearful are people about the noise they create that nearly a fifth have actually avoided using a toilet if they think it has a lack of soundproofing.

The adoption of a similar design approach to standard cubicles would provide more space for the user and also eliminate the door gap issues, thereby ensuring increased privacy. The challenge for architects, designers and facility managers is to provide the larger cubicles without reducing the number of overall cubicles available in a building.

The in-depth research explores the UK’s innermost thoughts on public toilets and reveals vital insight to aid architects, designers and fabricators on the future design of the public toilet.



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