Chapter 3. Offices and Restrooms

It started with a lunch conversation that slowly turned into a coffee break mini-debate. You see, I had just moved into a new job and my first task was to hire engineers to staff my team. Although the final numbers were not absolute, 70 was bandied around for the population of the office. We had half a floor, plenty of space really, but the bone of contention was focused on more delicate facilities (i.e., the restrooms).

The problem was that the whole floor shared a single pair of restrooms (one for the men and another for women) with the gents having two toilets and three urinals. I was totally convinced that with 70 people in the office, we would reach bladder or bowel apocalypse, an absolute disaster in the waiting. My other colleagues were less worried—they noted that the other floors seemed to be doing fine. It wasn’t as if we could do anything about it: no one was about to magically add new restrooms for us, no matter how long the queue was or how loudly we shouted. But I was curious in a general sense: what algorithm determines the number of restrooms per square meter of occupancy?

The first thing any respectable research engineer would do, of course, is to search for the answers online. I did enthusiastic searches on building regulations in Singapore for information on the ratio of people to the number of restrooms but found none. However, the United Kingdom has some interesting regulations covered by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). ...

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