Vandalism: What To Do When Vandals Strike Restrooms
Restroom vandalism is an unfortunate fact of life for building service contractors, regardless of their market or the types of facilities they clean — it’s not just bored school children who write on the walls, clog the sinks and damage dispensers. In fact, office workers can be even more destructive.
“In our schools, we don’t have many problems,” says Brad Klein, president of Building Professionals of Texas Janitorial Service in Houston. “The kids keep the restrooms OK. It’s our lower-end, tenant-occupied office buildings where we see problems.”
Lower-rent facilities with low-wage, high-turnover workforces such as call centers attract much more restroom vandalism than other facilities. Klein ascribes this to disgruntled employees who don’t care about the state of their workplace, or who want revenge.
Restroom sabotage also seems to occur more often in the summer than other times of the year.
“School’s out, and people are rowdy,” Klein says.
The writing on the wall A common vandalism problem in just about any restroom, at any time of year, is graffiti. Partitions and stall doors are frequent targets, but walls, dispensers and other fixtures also end up with their share of ink. Graffiti targeting a supervisor or a co-worker seems to be a theme, Klein adds.
The first thing a janitor should do in order to clean up graffiti is to assess the surface itself, says Bob Lintzenich, training specialist for Servpro, a cleaning and restoration contracting company in Gallatin, Tenn. It is generally easier to remove graffiti from nonporous surfaces, especially glossy painted partitions, he points out.
“If it’s a porous material, paint or ink might have soaked in,”says Lintzenich.“We then try to figure out what type of product was used to vandalize the surface, and what we can use to dissolve it.”
Servpro has its own graffiti-removing chemical that can dissolve most paints and inks, but Klein’s tools for removing restroom graffiti are common janitorial items — general-purpose cleaner and cloths.
“Most ink comes [off] pretty easily,” Klein says.
For etched-in graffiti, Klein’s staff notifies building management and they handle it.
“We’re hamstrung,” he explains. “There’s not much we can do, short of painting or replacing the fixture.”
Water, water everywhere Perhaps the most disruptive form of restroom vandalism is the flood — saboteurs deliberately clog a sink or toilet, and then turn on the water or flush the bowl. Several vandals working in tandem, or one enterprising person left alone for awhile, can cause significant amounts of water to spill onto the floor before the problem is discovered.
How a BSC should address a restroom flood depends on the severity of the damage.
“We try to unclog the drain first,” Klein says. “If we can do it, we don’t even report it to building management. We just clean up the mess. If we can’t, we let management know to call a plumber.”
Janitors can simply mop up small amounts of water and then follow their normal floor-cleaning procedures. But, for larger amounts of water, a contractor may want to consider calling a water-damage specialist.
“Whether you need a specialist depends on the size of the water event,” says Lintzenich. “If it’s just a toilet overflow, and you have a floor drain, you’ll hold down your damage. If you don’t have a drain, the water will begin to seek cracks in the floor and will cause more damage.”
A specialist will first stop the source of the flood and get the water out of the restroom – small amounts can go into a floor drain or be removed with a wet-dry vacuum, no-touch cleaning system or a truck-mounted machine; this is an operation many BSCs can handle themselves.
For two to four inches of water, a specialist can use a submersible pump that dispenses the water into waste tanks or, in the case of black water, into a sanitary sewer, which is out of the realm of most janitorial contractors’ expertise.
After the visible water is gone, a specialist can use moisture meters to find out what else got wet.
“Water can go in any direction,” Lintzenich explains. “We can find out if something behind a wall is wet, or if the water went through a ceiling.”
If the water appears to have leaked downward, Lintzenich advises contractors check wall cavities, expansion joints and the HVAC system; BSCs who lack the capacity to do so should call in a specialist, since trapped water can cause mold and bacteria growth, endangering indoor air quality and occupant safety.
To remove trapped water, technicians can drill holes in the walls and insert tubes to dry out the cavities. They also use dehumidifiers and air movers, says Lintzenich.
“We’re just using science,” he says. “If you put warm, dry air up to a wet wall, the water will be pulled out.”
A gallon of cure Preventing floods in the first place is tough, as a determined vandal will likely subvert any attempts. No-touch faucets and flush valves can minimize water flow; automatic, portion-controlled paper dispensers can frustrate vandals as they wait for another sheet of paper with which to clog a sink or bowl.
But, the impact a BSC can have on specification can be limited. For instance, Klein can recommend a course of action, including replacing a fixture with a more tamper-resistant version or offering no-touch, programmable sinks and paper dispensers to minimize the opportunity for mischief, but he doesn’t have specification authority.
“I’d love to be able to go in and say, ‘there’s a problem here, so we’re going to do this, this and this and it’ll be perfect,’” he says.
Still, a well-trained and responsive staff can clean up small vandalism problems, quickly notify building management of larger issues, and keep the restrooms clean and safe.
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