Minimizing the exposure to pathogens has always been a goal when designing public restrooms- a concern is heightened now for obvious reasons.
The virus has mostly spread through airborne aerosols (a suspension of liquid droplets in air) and contact with surfaces that contain the virus. There are five fundamental strategies to help reduce transmission: (1) reducing the touching of objects in the restrooms, (2) maximizing opportunities for hand washing and sterilization, (3) increasing air removal from interior spaces, (4) increasing interior sunlight exposure and (5) enhancing the separation of users.
Generalities aside, what are some actionable, specific things you can do to make your restroom safer? We’ve come up with a list of suggestions.
Shown below are floor plans for single-occupant and multi-stall restrooms. Each number shown on these floor plans corresponds with one of 16 features you can add to your restroom to enhance safety:
(Note that the use of single cabin restrooms instead of multi-stall restrooms eliminates social proximity within the restroom spaces.)
Here are the explanations for the keynotes on these floor plans:
- Touchless toilet flush operators.
- Sinks equipped with touchless faucets. Additionally, you could place the sinks outside of the restroom. This allows people to wash their hands without needing to enter the restroom spaces.
- Touchless soap dispensers.
- Touchless paper towel dispensers. We recommend that you disable your electric hand-dryers as they circulate airborne pathogens. Paper towel dispensers are also useful for touching surfaces like door handles safely.
- Waste containers. Make sure these are placed near the exit so as to encourage the use of paper towels when opening the door. Placement needs to meet ADA clearance requirements.
- Touchless hand sanitizer dispensers. This is a good backup for when the soap dispensers run out of soap. Restroom users may want to place a dab on their hand and rub it in after opening the door to exit.
- Glass skylights. Sunlight is effective in killing pathogens. Ultraviolet light can pass through glass and still kill virus and bacterial microbes.
- Exhaust fans should run continuously to expel airborne pathogens.
- Be sure your wall grates have operable louvers sized and spaced to facilitate a frequent removal of air from within the restroom spaces.
- Add buffer walls between sinks and urinals where 6 feet of separation cannot be obtained. These walls should extend from floor to ceiling.
- Install a hold open arm to your multi-stall restrooms entrance doors. This keeps the main door open at all times which allows users to enter and leave without touching it. Keeping the door open also significantly increases ventilation and the flushing out of airborne pathogens.
- Outside privacy screens may be needed for when the restroom door is secured open.
- Touchless bottle filler.
- Foot pulls and kick plates at bottom of doors. This makes opening a door a hands-free process from either side of the door. These can be installed at the bottom of toilet partition doors that extend to within a few inches of the floor.
- Self-closing toilet partition doors. This keeps the door closed without have to touch a locking knob.
- Proximity activated electric door opener.
One extra suggestion: consider using permanent signage which encourages restroom users to wash their hands, wear masks, and practice social distancing. And of course remember that regular cleaning and disinfection of public restrooms makes them safer and more welcoming to the public.
Just as the Americans with Disabilities Act changed the culture of restroom designs, so will the coronavirus. We all look forward in hope to a day when this pandemic is gone. Until then, these strategies are well worth employing to reduce infections and to give the public greater ease of mind when they use a public restroom.
Having convenient restrooms available to the public has been a major factor in improving health around the world. Public restrooms are not going away, nor should they. We must all do our part to make them as safe as possible both for our visitors and even for those who never visit our public places.