Business and Health Experts Debate: Will Public Restrooms Become Remnants of the Past?

Joel Eisenberg

Since the advent of the pandemic, public restrooms have been closing at a record pace. Some say these closings represent a troubling reality.

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No Public Restrooms signShutterstock

Author’s Note

This article is based on corporate postings and accredited media reports. All linked information within this article is fully-attributed to the following outlets: Wikipedia.org, Bloomberg.com, OSHA.gov, SmallBusiness.chron.com, Google.com, Marketplace.org, and WebMD.com.

Introduction

Public restrooms, also known as washrooms among other identifiers, have had a storied history. For a comprehensive overview of the public washroom and its equipment — which differs from country to country — see here for Wikipedia’s page on the matter, which states: Public toilets may be municipally owned or managed and entered directly from the street. Or they may be within a building that, while privately owned, allows public access, such as a department store, or it may be limited to the business's customers, such as a restaurant. Some public toilets are free of charge while others charge a fee. In the latter case they are also called pay toilets and sometimes have a charging turnstile.

Since the advent of Covid-19, however, public restrooms have been disappearing from U.S. businesses at a record pace and business professionals expect further closures. According to Bloomberg.com, health-related issues have become a strong concern, and consequently many public restrooms were shut down as matters of public health.

As excerpted from Bloomberg’s November, 2021 article on the topic, “Will Did All the Public Bathrooms Go?” writer Elizabeth Yuko states: As Covid closures continued, the pandemic revealed a different toilet-related problem that predated the novel coronavirus: a dire lack of public restrooms. Though facilities in bars and retail establishments are often thought of as “public,” widespread shutdowns served as a stark reminder that they’re really not — and that few genuinely public bathrooms remain in American cities. That reality was underscored as the pandemic dragged on. Infection fears led cities to padlock the few public restrooms that were available.

Though we may be in a less-restrictive phase of the pandemic presently, recent reports inclusive of the Bloomberg piece also punctuated decades-long, widespread negligence of public restrooms has caused its own share of health hazards

Let us explore further.

The State of Public Restrooms, 2022

On the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website, rules are listed as to lawful standards of public restrooms in country-wide businesses: Lavatories shall be made available in all places of employment. The requirements of this subdivision do not apply to mobile crews or to normally unattended work locations if employees working at these locations have transportation readily available to nearby washing facilities which meet the other requirements of this paragraph.

Privately-owned companies must comply with OSHA regulations, though guidelines as to restrooms for the general public do not fall under thIs specific paragraph. For further information on restroom requirements for the public, see January, 2019 SmallBusiness.chron.com article, “Restroom Requirements For Restaurants.”

Excerpted from the article: Restaurants of any size are regulated by a variety of local, state and federal laws dealing with health and safety for customers and employees. A critical component of restaurant design is providing restrooms for customers and employees, and for both men and women in each category. This includes the physical facilities and signage, as well as provision for handicapped or wheelchair access.

Note: This article also includes exceptions to the listed general rules.

In terms of the expectations of business and health experts, there appears to be a consensus among them — per a targeted Google.com search — that as public restrooms are still disappearing quickly, it is up to company owners, including corporations, to maintain them or risk a still-deeper decline in the future.

See here for December, 2021 Marketplace.org interview with Elizabeth Yuko, author of the Bloomberg.com article as linked above in this article’s Introduction.

From the interview, quoting Elizabeth: ”I live in New York, and in the before times, they were tourists everywhere. And one of the questions I got asked pretty frequently was, you know, where’s the nearest public restroom? And I would have to give them a rundown of, “The big Macy’s is there. If you go to the basement, you can find that,” you know, that type of thing. But another thing that happened was the United Nations sent a representative to the United States to assess the sanitation and drinking water situation. And the report that resulted basically said that the representative was shocked to find so few genuinely public restrooms here.”

This is the gist. Various health-related issues, regardless of specific reason for them, account for many of the closings, though few expect public toilets to completely go away.

Conclusion

Public restrooms have been disappearing for decades, largely due to general negligence and, from 2020 onward, repercussions of Covid-19. However, as OSHA rules make certain as to their availability in certain entities, they will likely not disappear entirely, but will continue to shut down for as long as they remain a public health hazard.

For a list of those specific health hazards, including damage to the immune system and E. coli, see WebMD article here.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

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