Professional Development: Being “Chemically Careful” In The Restroom
By Roger McFadden
Published in the September 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
When a restroom smells bad, appears dirty, or is out of supplies, it reflects poorly on the facilities and maintenance staff. In fact, according to the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International, over 25% of all cleaning related complaints are associated with restroom care. A dirty restroom can result in lost revenue, fewer guests, general infections, and a poor reputation.
Effective restroom maintenance, on the other hand, elevates the image of the custodial staff and improves the overall health and safety of the facility. It can also increase customer loyalty, drive profitability, and improve employee morale.
But quality restroom care requires good planning and attention to detail. Facility managers (fms) need to balance many cost, environmental, personnel, and even chemical requirements in order to protect themselves, building occupants, and the businesses they serve.
One of the most overlooked areas in restroom management is the effect of harmful chemicals. Data from Santa Clara County, California indicates that every year, about six of every 100 custodians experience a job related injury from cleaning chemical exposure.
The push for more environmentally responsible products has brought this issue to the forefront for many fms. These guidelines may help them be more “chemically careful” in their restroom cleanliness practices-and elevate them as planners, organizers, leaders, coordinators, and evaluators.
Include All Stakeholders When Selecting Chemical Cleaning Products. The cleaning product selection process should be carefully planned and implemented, and all stakeholders including cleaning personnel, management, safety, health, sustainability, and environmental associates in the organization. Selections should be based on more than a pleasant fragrance, attractive color, or cheap price. The cost of overlooking the safety and environmental impact of a product can be enormous. Using hazardous acids, caustics, or volatile solvents can cause on the job injuries, contaminate indoor air, increase handling costs, and damage expensive restroom fixtures.
Select Products That Are Effective and Safer For Workers and Environmental Surfaces. The restroom environment typically is a depository for germs and contaminants. Cleaning and disinfectant products are specially formulated to help remove contaminants, kill germs, and keep buildings cleaner and healthier. A well planned restroom care program will incorporate products that are effective, safe for workers, and able to protect surfaces. An emerging trend among fms is to eliminate harsh chemicals, lower volatile organic compounds, and find sustainable alternatives to traditional cleaners.
Identify and Review Hazardous Ingredients. Most cleaning formulations contain not just one chemical ingredient but several. This often makes an environmental, health, and safety (EHS) assessment complicated. For example, if isopropyl alcohol were being considered for use in an operation, EHS professionals would review a variety of scientific and medical databases about it and make an informed choice about whether or not it can safely be used.
Review Information From Material Safety Data Sheets. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires companies that make chemical cleaners to prepare a material safety data sheet (MSDS) for each product. The MSDS lists hazardous ingredients found in the product as well as other important safety information. However, OSHA does not require full disclosure or exact percentages of all ingredients. This creates a problem for fms who are responsible for making hazard and risk assessments of a product being considered for use in their facilities.
Not All Hazardous Ingredients Are Created Equal. Formaldehyde and isopropyl alcohol are listed on some cleaning product MSDSs, and they are both considered hazardous. Yet, one is a carcinogen, and one is used as a rubbing alcohol on human skin. What a toxicologist would say is that “the dose makes the poison.” For example, a medication designed to cure an illness can become deadly when too much is used or when it is mixed with other medications. In the pharmaceutical world, medicines are usually accompanied by information on how to use them safely and effectively, possible side effects, and other medicines to avoid. Unfortunately, cleaning product labels and MSDSs are not held to the same standards for disclosure.
Avoid High Levels of Corrosive Acids and Alkalis. Hydrochloric (HCL) and phosphoric acid are sometimes used in tub, tile, toilet, and shower room cleaners. These aggressive acids can damage toilets, urinals, sinks, metal, mirrors, floor tiles, grouting, and other restroom surfaces. Acid toilet bowl cleaners typically have an acid content between 9% and 23%. This level may be effective for removing tougher deposits from toilets and urinals, but when used repeatedly and long-term, it can damage these fixtures. HCL can etch the toilet bowl and urinal surfaces, making them more receptive to mineral deposits and soils. Although some of these acid products contain special buffering agents that may help reduce surface impact, proper daily cleaning of restroom toilets and urinals with effective, non-acid or milder-acid disinfectant cleaners can reduce the risk and exposure to workers and surfaces.
Avoid Hydrofluoric Acid and HF Salts. Hydrofluoric acid (HF) solutions and mixtures are sometimes used to formulate specialty mineral stain removers. These chemicals are very effective in removing the toughest of mineral stains, but they can severely etch and damage porcelain, porcelain enamel, glass, and glazed ceramic tiles.
Care should be taken to control the contact time of products formulated with these ingredients. Proper cleaning and care of surfaces can usually prevent the need for use of HF based products.
Use Quaternary Disinfectant Cleaners. Quaternary disinfectants are currently an excellent choice for cleaning and disinfecting the restroom environment. Many of these products are effective against a broad spectrum of disease-causing microorganisms, including streptococcus, staphylococcus, pseudomonas aeruginosa, HIV-1, HBV, herpes simplex 1 and 2, and a variety of influenza virus strains. Fms will want to read the product label and literature to confirm what organisms a disinfectant cleaner will kill. Chlorine bleach is a good disinfectant but requires pre-cleaning of surfaces for it to be effective.
Treat Toilets Like Teeth. Most cleaning experts would agree that when aggressive acid cleaners are needed for toilets and urinals, it’s because of poor daily cleaning practices. These conditions can be prevented with milder products and daily cleaning of toilets and urinals. It’s very much like good dental care: there would be significantly fewer root canals and other high priced dental procedures if patients would properly brush and floss. When toilets and urinals are cleaned and brushed daily, they are less likely to need expensive and hazardous remedies.
If Using Hazardous Chemicals, Wear Gloves and Goggles. The elimination of the hazardous cleaning product is first priority. But if fms choose to work with hazardous chemicals, staff members should follow all the safety requirements and recommendations. Workers should never apply or use an aggressive acid toilet bowl cleaner without appropriate gloves and goggles. Corrosive acids and alkalis can produce acute and/or chronic injury to eyes and skin. It is important for staff to wear the appropriate personal protection equipment required or recommended on the product label and/or MSDS.
Locate Safer Alternatives. Fms are looking for ways to compare the safety of various cleaning products. Research is being done and databases are being developed that can assist in attempts to compare the relative hazards or dangers of ingredients in products.
One database that is particularly interesting is the Indiana Relative Chemical Hazard Score (IRCHS). Developed by Purdue University, IRCHS evaluates an ingredient and assigns a chemical hazard value based upon the average of the environmental hazard value and the worker exposure hazard value. This helps organizations compare the relative hazard value of ingredients in various cleaning products and find safer alternatives. And in the end, fms will find that safer alternatives are better alternatives.
McFadden is the vice president and senior scientist of Staples Facility Solutions, the business-to-business division of Staples Inc.
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