Guest Column - February 2021
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inPERSPECTIVE / RESTROOMS

A Better Future
Safe Public Restroom Practices & Design

By Kristyn Young


2020 was a difficult year for all, especially anytime you decided to venture outside the home. Things that used to be part of everyday life were marked with caution tape and signage to keep proper distance from one another. In the coming months, as we return to a somewhat normal state and more public spaces start to reopen, we need to have other certain life conveniences available to us as well—we're talking public restrooms.

To make people feel safer using public facilities with less anxiety, we need to do two things: continue to follow health guidelines, and take greater considerations when it comes to future restroom design.

Parks, trails and open spaces are great places for people to get physical activity and fresh air during these trying times to maintain and improve their mental, emotional and physical well-being. Social distancing still must be followed, but being outside is great for people to unwind and relax after spending too much time indoors.

Now more than ever, it is critical for restrooms to be cleaned and sanitized on a daily basis. According to the CDC, restrooms should be maintained if they are open, and restrooms should have "functional toilets, clean and disinfected surfaces, and handwashing supplies." Hand soap and hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) are recommended to not only be present, but well-stocked.

For restroom closures or those park restrooms without running water (e.g., portable toilets or vaults), it is recommended that visitors bring their own hand sanitizer and park operators notify visitors of any closed facilities prior to their visit through their website or other online communications.

A New York Times article about public bathrooms and the coronavirus quoted Yvonne Maldonado, M.D., a professor of pediatric infectious disease at Stanford University, who stated, "If you look at the data on transmission, some of the most important transmission occurs in the home, because there are lots of high-repetitive touch areas over time." Whereas in a public bathroom, an infected person will most likely only touch a surface once—not over and over again. So, another way to keep yourself healthy is by using disinfectant wipes on any common surfaces before touching them yourself to help prevent transmission.

According to the CDC, the primary method of COVID-19 transmission is through close person-to-person exposure (within six feet) and respiratory droplets in the air. So, keeping a safe distance from others is still the best policy and most effective means to staying safe.

A few other tips can help put bathroom users at ease:

  • Wash hands or use hand sanitizer frequently, especially after using a restroom.
  • Avoid touching high-touch surfaces with your hands as much as possible.
  • Wear a face covering over mouth and nose to help prevent inhaling air particles.
  • If the restroom has multiple stalls, wait until the other person is finished and stand outside to practice social distancing.

Additionally, restrooms that experience higher volumes of users should be cleaned more frequently than daily when possible. High-touch surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected with EPA-registered disinfectants with cleaning staff wearing appropriate PPE at all times.

High-touch surfaces include, but are not limited to:

  • Toilet flush handles.
  • Door handles, latches, panels and edges.
  • Faucet handles.
  • Soap dispenser levers.
  • Countertops.
  • Changing tables.

The next thing to address is restroom design and the floor plan layout—more specifically, single-occupancy vs. multiple-occupancy. Not only do single-occupant restroom designs help with social distancing practices during a pandemic, but they also address the growing need for gender-neutral restrooms. A private, non-gender-specific restroom is more inclusive to several groups of people: people with disabilities who need assistance by a caregiver, parents with small children of the opposite sex, and transgender or non-binary gender people.

Another benefit of single-occupant restroom design is security and the ability to lock the door. Whether you are in a location with transient populations, have small children or are assisting a person with a disability, having the ability to feel secure while using a restroom is important.

Looking beyond the floor plan, interior restroom components and exterior building materials are just as important. For example, introducing fresh air to restrooms is a better way to provide ventilation than mechanical fans and can help reduce airborne transmission of pathogens. This can easily be achieved through incorporating stainless-steel woven vent screens on the building's exterior. These open vents also provide the ability to call out for help if needed while in the restroom, enhancing overall security.

Another big consideration is that all door hardware and flush levers should feature an anti-microbial finish, to help kill germs on contact and offer a level of built-in protection against bacteria transfer in between cleanings. Make every effort to eliminate as many "high-touch surfaces" as possible by choosing fixtures that have hands-free activators. This should be considered for faucets, soap dispensers, toilets, urinals, hand dryers, paper towel dispensers, lights and hand-sanitizer dispensers. Selecting occupancy-activated LED light fixtures eliminates yet another high-touch surface, but also reduces electricity waste when the restroom is not in use.

Examining every last detail is critical to design a safer, cleaner restroom for the future or to modify a current one. The pandemic has proved to be trying for everyone, but if we can adapt for the future and employ good hygiene practices, we will all end up in a better place for years to come. RM



ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kristyn Young is the director of marketing and planning for Public Restroom Company based out of Reno, Nev. She has a great love for the outdoors and loves to ski, mountain bike and enjoy the trails with her two dogs. As a new mom to a baby girl, she now has a new appreciation for public restrooms and keeping them both open and safe into the future.