Repeating past mistakes?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana; philosopher

Whereas this well-known quote is applicable in many different areas, it sounds a clear warning to the current focus on sanitising in the facilities management and cleaning industry. A similar focus saw the replacement of flushing urinals with waterless ones during the ‘Millennium’ drought of 2001-2009 that resulted in a number of unanticipated problems:

  • Odour
  • Drain blockages
  • High plumbing costs
  • Lack of an integrated approach
  • Avoidable replacement costs

The problem with waterless urinals

In response to severe water shortages during the ‘Millennium’ drought, many facilities managers replaced their water-fed urinals with ‘waterless’ varieties. Moreover, architects consistently designed washrooms with water-saving measures in mind. But the focus on saving this precious resource did not address one of the most persistent washroom issues … odour. In fact, the lack of a regular daily purge of water, combined with incorrect cleaning practices that strayed from the manufacturers’ recommended techniques further exacerbated the problem.

Odour remained problematic for building owners until the drought was broken with the onset of a La Niña event in 2010. Immediately afterwards, many waterless urinals were replaced with flushing types to eradicate lingering odour from washrooms. The financial cost of constantly removing and installing urinals could easily have been avoided if a holistic approach to cleaning these urinals have been adopted at the start of the drought. This includes using the correct cleaning tools and methods, combined with technology that was available at the time; biological cleaning solutions. During that difficult period it was proven that the friendly bacteria contained in urinal blocks, washroom liquids, and drain solutions were able to both eradicate the problem of odour, treat surfaces with a protective layer, and condition pipes. The result was quantifiable water savings and reduced maintenance costs, all while controlling bad smells.

The problem with a focus on mainly sanitising

Although we have not fully navigated through the COVID-19 pandemic yet, it is worth drawing comparisons between the focus on sanitising today, and the lessons learnt from the washroom problems that were experienced following the response to the ‘Millennium’ drought.

Many facilities managers and cleaning companies have shifted their focus from traditional activities to mainly sanitising, especially using products and chemicals that claim to have such properties over-and-above their normal cleaning attributes. The lockdowns and lack of people traffic have not sufficiently tested this approach yet, and as the economy opens up, we are sure to learn if this has created unexpected problems in washrooms and surrounding facilities. Bacteria, both good and bad, play a vital role in the human immune response. And the specially selected bacterial strains in biological cleaning solutions will be nullified by the bleaches and alcohol that is the main constituent in surface sanitisers. Odour is sure to follow, and the same problems experienced during the drought will resurface. In addition, the natural environment in pipes and drains will be destroyed and hard water will not be softened by natural bacterial action anymore.

Predominantly focusing on sanitising, as opposed to an integrated approach where expertise is drawn from a variety of proven approaches:

  • has seen solutions introduced that have no longevity,
  • with an emphasis on being seen to do something rather than focus on what actually works, and
  • seems to ignore issues that are related to asset and odour management.

In conclusion Every new challenge must surely be dealt with differently. However, it would be wise to learn from past mistakes so that we can avoid repeating similar ones. A focus on sanitising at the expense of a holistic cleaning approach is sure to create unforeseen complications in washrooms and surrounding areas.

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