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Balancing Restroom Hygiene with Accessibility

This post contains sponsored content provided by Boberick.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed design and accessibility expectations for commercial and public restrooms. As buildings reopen and design professionals think about new projects, a restroom’s ability to support hygiene as well as accessibility has become a top consideration.

According to research conducted by Bobrick, hygiene is of utmost importance to both architects and facilities professionals. A survey of more than 300 architects and facilities professionals revealed that restrooms ranked as a top-2 area of concern for both groups. Further, 70% of architects and 92% of facilities professionals say hygiene is “extremely important” to their clientele.

The research also revealed that architects and facilities professionals rarely consult with each other on projects. Only 15% of architects name facilities professionals as their top hygiene resource – only 6% of facilities professionals rely on architects most.

What are the Expectations Now?

New health and safety standards and accreditations have emerged, including WELL Certified and GBAC (Global Biorisk Advisory Council) STAR.

While LEED® is primarily seen as an environmentally focused certification standard, it also offers incentives for supporting patron health and wellness. LEED Green Cleaning Guidance for Safety First offers pilot credits for healthy cleaning practices to reduce virus spread, support of physical distancing, ensuring adequate air and water quality and more.

As new health and wellness standards emerge, design and ease of maintenance become all the more important in the restroom. Compliance with ADA and ICC A117.1 accessibility standards remains a non-negotiable.

What Are the Risks?

In a COVID-conscious world, the restroom poses a number of challenges. Respiratory droplets can easily spread within 3-5 feet. Transmission can occur from person to person or via surface contamination. Poor air circulation can exacerbate potential risks.

Meanwhile, restrooms can be crowded, enclosed spaces, with numerous touchpoints and many shared surfaces. Keep in mind these multiple touchpoints must be cleaned every day. A single restroom utilizing manual accessories exclusively can present 15 or more potential touchpoints to a single user.

For today’s restrooms, reducing touchpoints while supporting Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance for handwashing, occupancy and disinfection are overriding objectives. In fact, Bobrick research indicates that both architects and facilities see “touchpoint reduction” as a top concern in restrooms.

A facility being indoors or outdoors, as well as crowd density and patrons’ ability to keep a mask on throughout their visit, are significant factors in a building’s risk of transmission.

While all restrooms moving forward will require modified design approaches, knowing which building types are at the highest risk can help prioritize solutions. A New York Times article from May 2020 identified restaurants, malls and gyms as places with the greatest risk for transmission.

The CDC guidance on returning to the workplace environment, which can lead to many design and operational challenges, advises that one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of infection is with frequent, proper hand hygiene – specifically handwashing and drying. Restrooms must be safe spaces, where someone can clean their hands and feel good about the process.

The CDC also suggests when returning to the workspace, the traffic flow and occupancy of spaces needs to be considered. Overcrowding of these spaces leads to easier disease transmission. A key point to consider is the condition and design of the airflow to these spaces.

Finally, the CDC also addresses the cleaning and disinfection of spaces. From a design standpoint, it is critical to consider the types of surfaces used for moisture control, their ease of cleaning and their ability to stand up to the repeated exposure to disinfectants or just general longevity. Viruses and bacteria like to live in any small crack or space they can find. So, considering the surface and the long-term condition of the surface is critical.

Should I Specify Touchless Restroom Products?

Prioritizing touchless products is one of the most impactful design strategies for post-COVID restrooms. Touchless, automatic soap dispensers and hand drying solutions are now preferred by most facilities.

In addition to touchless soap dispensers, touchless hand sanitizer dispensers, paper towel dispensers and hand dryers also can support hygienic handwashing and hand drying.

Doorless entries and exits, as well as new technologies, such as anti-viral touch keys, are emerging as popular solutions.

You should also prioritize touchless plumbing fixtures, such as faucets, toilets and urinals, over manually operated products.

Some toilet compartment door latches – such as those used on Bobrick’s PRIVADA® Cubicles -- can also operate without grasping the latch with fingers. This hardware allows users to both secure and unlock the door with a quick flick of the wrist, forearm or elbow. The hands-free L-shaped latch/handle can be used on newly designed toilet compartments or retrofitted on existing compartments to reduce contact with shared surfaces.

To further support user peace of mind, you should also consider additional amenities inside toilet compartments, where possible. To address shared surfaces, such as grab bars and toilet compartment door handles, toilet compartment interiors can include a hand sanitizer dispenser, paper towel dispenser and a waste disposal to ensure optimal hand hygiene while inside and exiting the compartment.

Accessibility and universal design best practices are implemented by architectural design, space planning, restroom accessories/toilet partition product specifications and facility operational policies. Specify Bobrick and Koala Kare products that support compliance with accessibility standards and universal design for inclusion and greater usability by people with disabilities.

In designing for a post-COVID-19 world, evaluate restrooms from the perspectives of all restroom stakeholders, from users requiring accessibility considerations to facility operators and building owners.

An overall risk assessment should be conducted to address physical distancing, density, air quality and more. Thoughtful product selection should meet patrons’ hygiene needs while ensuring smooth, reliable operation. Space and layout should optimize physical distancing with traffic flow, queuing and accessibility.

When all perspectives are considered, the result is a clean, healthy restroom where everyone – no matter their physical abilities -- can feel safe.

For additional post-COVID design strategies, download Bobrick’s Restroom Hygiene & Planning Guide.

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