A basic level of personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used by all front-line custodial workers, no matter what job they are performing or what chemical they are using. Protecting workers from cleaning chemicals and restroom germs will keep them efficient and safe, says Schneringer.

“Chemicals and PPE help you get the job done faster — people are able to pay better attention to what they’re doing if they can do it efficiently,” he says.

All custodial employees should be provided gloves, goggles and protective uniform specifications such as long sleeves and rubber-soled safety shoes or shoe covers.

“OSHA regulations and your facility safety guidelines should determine the minimum PPE an employee should use for specific tasks,” Harshman says. “If a restroom has as biohazard inside, then additional PPE would be required, such as a dust mask and a biohazard suit. Most companies have a written safety plan and written task procedures for employees to follow when performing assigned duties.”

In-house custodial managers should consider PPE requirements as a best practice. It may be difficult to convince employees to wear certain items, such as goggles, but workers should be encouraged to move past concerns about how they look and consider the safety they provide. Besides, today’s safety glasses have more of a “cool factor” than the goggles many remember from chemistry class, Schneringer says.

The bottom line is, most chemical-related injuries are preventable. No matter what type of chemical a worker is using, accidents can happen, and PPE can and does prevent injuries.

“Even if you’re using a mild cleaner, you can still get something splashed back into your eye, and it can still be irritating, so make sure you’re safe from that,” Schneringer says. “No matter what kind of cleaning you’re doing, you never know what lies on those surfaces you’re cleaning up, what sorts of material are present, or whether that material has pathogens in it. PPE can be a life-saver in that regard.”

Hands are a primary way that germs are transmitted, so remind workers to wash their hands properly and to use gloves to protect themselves.

“The staff should be changing gloves and washing their hands thoroughly after cleaning each restroom. Gloves can fail, and you don’t want to take those germs with you or cross-contaminate another area of the building,” McCannon says.

Another way to prevent cross-contamination is through color-coding when cleaning the restroom.

“We use a two-color system,” Harshman says. “Red towels are used to clean toilets and urinals, and white towels are used to clean all other surfaces.”

Promote Protective Measures

No matter what training system managers use, it is important to keep employees up-to-date on information like prominent pathogens, cleaning procedures, safety equipment and PPE, and other important protocols.

“There’s the employee right-to-know training, where people learn about the materials they’re using, recommended PPE, how to read the chemical safety data sheet and understanding the product label. You’re going to have all that spelled out,” Schneringer says. “The whole idea is, how do you make sure that the facility can be kept as clean and safe as possible, and that employees can do their work as safely and efficiently as possible?”

Regular biohazard and bloodborne pathogen trainings will also help employees learn about the dangerous bodily fluids they may come into contact with when cleaning restrooms. This training should include how specific PPE can help protect them.

In addition to providing appropriate training and PPE, some departments take safety protocols one step further.

“Because of the concern about Hepatitis C, which is more common than AIDS, we do offer to pay for our employees’ vaccinations,” Harshman says. “We protect our employees with extensive trainings, PPE and vaccinations so they don’t come into contact with diseases that could be life-threatening.”

The mix of potential hazards that lurk in restrooms cannot be ignored. It is essential that custodial managers arm staff with the proper knowledge and tools to clean and disinfect appropriately and safely. 

LISA RIDGELY is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee, Wis.

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Using Proper Chemicals To Clean Restrooms