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Restroom Care in the Age of COVID-19

How to meet new cleaning protocols and public hygiene expectations

Restroom Care in the Age of COVID-19

As facilities reopen after being shuttered for the global COVID-19 pandemic, there are new public health guidelines facility managers need to follow to protect building occupants. Perhaps even more importantly, occupant expectations are higher than ever before. As caution continues amid the pandemic there will be one area of your buildings that will continue to be a focal point of the public’s expectations—the restroom.

Restrooms have always been important for building satisfaction, even before the current pandemic. According to the 2020 In-House/Facility Management Benchmarking Survey from CMM, restrooms are the most problematic surface/area for facility managers across all types of facilities, by almost double. A survey from restroom supplies provider Cintas revealed that 90% of Americans think employers who deep clean their workplace restrooms regularly care more about the health and wellness of their employees than employers who don’t. The survey also found that nine in 10 Americans (90%) believe employers who pay consistent attention to their workplace restroom cleanliness care more about their employees than those who do not.

How will we see occupant behaviors and expectations change in light of the pandemic? And what are the most important cleaning practices to keep building occupants satisfied now, in light of a heightened awareness of hygiene? We spoke with three experts in the field of restroom care to learn more about the new guidelines.

Meeting the expectations of the post-COVID-19 public

According to a new international study from Tork, nearly eight out of ten people surveyed in North America feel more unsafe going to facilities with unhygienic public restrooms today than before the pandemic. These perceptions will persist for some time, and facility managers will need to adapt to meet occupants’ expectations.

Hygiene is no longer going to be assumed in a clean environment, according to Rachel Olsavicky, Regional Marketing Manager – Commercial & Public Interest, Essity Professional Hygiene. “People will want to be reassured that surfaces are sanitized and that the materials offered for hygiene are the most effective,” Olsavicky says.

According to an Insights Survey released by restroom supplies manufacturer GP PRO, a division of Georgia-Pacific, which surveyed the public regarding public health and hygiene in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, 73% of employees are concerned about illness spreading in their office. So that means almost 3 out of 4 of the people in the building are worried about the person sitting next to them. That right there tells you the mindset of the average office worker.

Julie Howard, vice president and general manager of GP PRO’s Towel, Skincare, and Aircare categories, sees a dramatic shift in public expectations coming from this survey and her conversations with customers. “Office workers have been home for months, they are going to want to see differences when they come back,” says Howard. “As a facility manager, you are no longer just cleaning a building, you are delivering a hygienic setting.

“When it comes to restroom care, it’s going to be about so much more than just showing your building occupants that the cleaners were here last night. Visible changes will be very important, both for the reality of taking care of a heightened level of facility hygiene and for the perception of your workers and building occupants.”

Hygiene focus may increase costs

Building occupants will want to know and be reassured that facility managers have augmented existing cleaning protocols with a renewed focus on hygiene. Having a clear, written protocol and a well-trained and adequately protected cleaning staff will be important elements for occupants to feel safe in the building. Further, if these revised cleaning protocols will impact occupants’ ability to access restrooms due to increased downtime for cleaning, facility managers should clearly communicate the potential for disruptions and why they are necessary.

“Before COVID-19 our innovations efforts were around operational efficiency,” recalls Howard. “Facility managers had rising labor costs and low unemployment rates and for many facilities, the focus was on cost, reducing annual spend. But now, hygiene is king. That’s going to be a new challenge for facilities because hygiene is going to raise their costs in some ways. They are going to have to consider that in their budgetary process.”

Gary Clipperton is president of National Pro Clean and Pro Clean College. He is an industry consultant, trainer, author, and chairman of the IICRC/ANSI new standard for janitorial and custodial cleaning. According to Clipperton, restroom care will need to increase 10% to 30% to provide some of the expected high levels of cleaning, but it will be well worth the investment to protect public health in these new, uncertain times. “Touchpoint cleaning will become a focus as well as total disinfection,” he says. “Those tasks will require additional labor, training, and inspections.”  

Elements of a hygiene-focused restroom SOP

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released detailed, up-to-date guidelines on how to safely reopen the country. From bars and restaurants to schools and mass transit, the CDC provides specific recommendations and safety measures for various settings. Cleaning managers should regularly monitor websites from the CDC; Global Biorisk Advisory Council® (GBAC), a division of ISSA; U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA); and U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In addition, the tips below from our experts in the field can be safely added to any restroom standard operating procedure (SOP) to improve hygiene and meet the demands of the public.

First things first: Facility managers will need to ensure they have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitizing products for staff as well as efficient cleaning protocols in place to maintain a high level of hygiene within restrooms. Training will need to be updated to reflect the new changes you implement in your restroom care SOPs. Training must address disinfecting cleaning procedures as well as PPE selection and the proper way to put it on and take it off without causing cross-contamination. Fortunately, federal agencies have thoroughly covered these topics on their websites. 

Next, cleaning frequencies in the restroom will need to increase. Larger facilities with higher restroom traffic may choose to add a day-porter service so restrooms can be touched up or cleaned and disinfectant applied during the day. 

“Some facilities are going to four restroom cleanings during the day,” says Clipperton. “This normally includes refilling consumables and cleaning and applying disinfectant to all high touchpoints in the facility.”

The definition of a high-touch area may be shifting, too. “For surface cleaning, facility managers should focus on high-touch areas, sinks, doorknobs, followed by floors,” advises Olsavicky. “Mops and sponges can harbor germs, so facility managers should consider disposable solutions to help prevent the spread of harmful microorganisms. When cleaning, be sure to use more than one wipe to prevent cross-contamination. Simple solutions like color-coded wipers commonly used in the restaurant industry can be helpful when training staff and ensuring cleaning compliance.”

“Another approach we have used regularly is to take detailed photos of the restroom including ceilings and walls, vents, partitions, door plates and handles, toilets, urinals, sinks, mirrors, dispensers, and floors,” says Clipperton. “Then we rate the appearance of each item on a scale of 1 to 10. Items that fail (say below a 7) are analyzed to determine the cause, the required solution, and future prevention.”

Don’t forget hand hygiene

Perhaps never in history has handwashing been more top-of-mind than it is now. Now, and into the future, the pain points in restroom care will be ensuring that they are properly designed and stocked to promote good hand hygiene. 

“Dispenser placement is a critical component to restroom care,” says Olsavicky. “They should be placed in easily visible and accessible areas where there’s a natural flow of traffic. Employees should not have to go out of their way to access those dispensers. Since every facility is different, facility managers will need to pay special attention to ensure dispensers are properly placed.”

Our experts agree that tenants will be less tolerant of empty towel and soap dispensers. So selecting systems that have appropriate capacity and controlled usage may be helpful. Consider putting up signage that promotes hand hygiene to show your tenants you care and are aware of the hygiene needs of the public, in addition to promoting proper handwashing.

Visibility is now more important than ever before. Making sure cleaning personnel are doing their job when occupants are in the building is one way to relieve concerns about COVID-19. People want to see those handwashing signs, but they also want to see active cleaning in facilities and restrooms.

COVID-19 Restroom Care Best Practices 

  • Provide cleaning personnel with training for hazardous communications, respiratory protection plans, and infection prevention.
  • Prepare a checklist of touchpoints to be cleaned daily or more often.
  • When cleaning touchpoints such as door handles, extend the cleaning and disinfecting effort 3 to 12 inches beyond the target point. 
  • When pulling trash, use new liners, and don’t crush the bags. This could disperse contaminants into the air. Allow them to naturally deflate inside the trash barrel. 
  • Select a disinfectant or disinfectant wipes from the EPA list: List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2.
  • Ensure the disinfectant is not prone to quaternary ammonium compound binding, which occurs when the disinfectant is disabled by the fibers of the microfiber towel. Make suitable adjustments. 
  • Encourage the cleaning crew to cover 100% of a surface with disinfectant so the dwell time is effective. 
  • If fogging or spraying disinfectant into the air or on surfaces, ensure the disinfectant is approved for that use. Block off areas until it is safe for reentry. 
  • Document all new cleaning procedures and describe the desired outcome for each task. 
  • Always use clean tools, mop buckets, mop heads, scrub pads, and towels. 

 Source: Gary Clipperton, president of National Pro Clean and Pro Clean College

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