As COVID-19 continues to transform how buildings are designed and operated, Bobrick Washroom Equipment, has consulted with health, architectural design and sanitation experts to gather recommendations and insights for reopening and redesigning commercial and public restrooms.
These insights were first shared in a July accredited Continuing Education webinar for architects and other design professionals.
“Probably the biggest challenge from an infection prevention standpoint is how crowded and enclosed restroom spaces tend to be,” said Juliet Ferrelli, director of infection prevention at Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh. “We hear so much about a six-foot distance because respiratory viruses such as COVID-19 can be spread easily by respiratory droplets within three to five feet.”
Poor air circulation and the moisture can also contribute to disease transmission in these settings. “Viruses can live longer on smooth moist surfaces, which are typically present in restrooms,” added Ferrelli. “Restrooms can also be prime environments for disease transmission due to the numerous touchpoints.”
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, frequent, proper hand hygiene, limiting overcrowding and increasing physical distances are critical to limiting the spread of bacteria and infections. Design professionals and product manufacturers view these recommendations as the foundation of new restroom layouts and design strategies.
A number of steps can be taken to help mitigate potential health risks, according to Ferrelli. Restroom designs should encourage proper handwashing, minimize overcrowding, be well ventilated with good air quality, utilize signage for proper physical distancing and hygiene and be cleaned frequently with EPA-approved disinfectants.
World-renowned architecture firm, Gensler, has been adapting to these evolving design requirements in their recent architectural projects. “Key protocols we’ve been focusing on include occupancy limits, signage or ‘signaling,’ queuing, door entry and active use of restroom fixtures and hardware,” said Lee Pasteris, NCIDQ, design director and principal at Gensler.
“Products, hardware and signage can all be effective hygiene tools in new or renovated restrooms,” added Caroline Feran, NCIDQ, associate and interior designer at Gensler. “But even with signaling, queues are likely to form during peak hours. There are less prescriptive and more prescriptive solutions to this challenge, from encouraging staff to schedule their breaks to low-investment solutions like vinyl decals that demarcate traffic flow.”
According to Pasteris and Feran, a number of novel products are emerging as solutions to minimize touchpoints, such as anti-viral touch keys and self-cleaning skins for door pulls. Some more established restroom accessories are also increasingly seen as non-negotiables, such as touchless, hands-free soap and paper towel dispensers.
In designing restrooms for today’s health and hygiene challenges, it’s not just architects who have to adapt to these new expectations — manufacturers must as well, both through their products and as design consultants.
“A range of products can work together to deliver a hygienic experience to restroom patrons,” said Alan Gettelman, vice president of external affairs at Bobrick. “At the lavatory for handwashing and hand drying, and inside the toilet compartment, patrons need access to hygienic amenities.”
According to Gettelman, a number of restroom product solutions may emerge as standard of design, including touchless faucets and soap dispensers, hand dryers that are recessed into the wall to minimize unhygienic water trails and increased-height toilet compartment doors and panels.
“For example, mobile device holders can help keep personal devices away from wet or unsanitary surfaces,” said Gettelman. “Even inside toilet compartments, patrons should be provided with the tools they need to ensure health and hygiene, whether it’s a touchless plumbing fixture or a hands-free door latch.”
COVID-19 is also prompting facilities and the design professionals who serve them to reconsider expectations for restroom layouts. From occupancy limits to doorless entrances and exits, architects, building professionals and product manufacturers are working together to find novel space planning solutions to emerging restroom health challenges.
“For example, shared, non-gendered handwashing stations are becoming an attractive solution for many buildings,” said Gettelman. “Social pressure incentivizes hands to be washed every time. It also facilitates frequent and thorough cleaning of countertop and lavatory surfaces.”
According to Ferrelli, creative solutions like these can be effective ways to prevent infection. “Anything that promotes more frequent handwashing is a positive,” she added.
Signage promoting good health and hygiene practices are also becoming the norm in public restrooms, including distance markers on floors to encourage six-foot physical distancing, and guidelines for handwashing and mask wearing.
While architects and product manufacturers have large roles to play in creating healthier, more hygienic restrooms, facility managers and building operators must carry many of these strategies across the finish line.
According to David Dickman, a consultant and accredited Cleaning Management Institute Professional (CMIP) with Allynt Solutions — an auditing firm that consults with facilities on janitorial and sanitation decisions — facilities can take a number of steps to ensure they play their part in supporting patron health and wellness.
“Cleaning audits can help validate the architect’s restroom design and uncover potential issues,” said Dickman. “Staff training and education are also critical — staff should know proper cleaning procedures.”
Restroom product durability may also impact facility management. As products age, they may fall into disrepair, resulting in “hygiene downtime” where soap or paper towel dispensers are non-functional. “We see this issue in our audits frequently,” added Dickman.
As facilities and businesses of all kinds face challenges reopening and designing restrooms for the future, a “360-degree” perspective can help. Representatives from multiple disciplines — infection prevention, architectural design, product manufacturing and facility operation — should utilize their unique expertise in evaluating new restroom designs, said David Leigh, vice president of marketing at Bobrick.
“From overall health risk assessments and space planning to product selection and cleaning, tomorrow’s healthy restrooms will be a team effort,” said Leigh. “It’s about getting the right minds in the room to protect the general health and well-being of restroom users.”