Think about the last time you visited a public restroom—did you consider the risk of bloodborne pathogen (BBP) exposure? If you’re a man, probably never. If you’re a woman, you’re probably all too familiar with the perils of the menstrual receptacle; but have you ever considered the actual threat of BBPs? Thanks to OSHA, all facilities have established rigorous protocols for controlling exposure risk to BBPs and Other Potentially Infectious Materials (OPIMs); although, there is one area of risk often overlooked — the disposal of menstrual items in public restrooms. Make no mistake about it, menstrual blood can transmit infectious diseases like Hepatitis B (HBV), Hepatitis C (HCV), MRSA, and other OPIMs, the same as any other kind of blood. Yet, the communal strategy seems to be 'look the other way.’
In 1991, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enacted the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, an intricate set of guidelines to mitigate risks. OSHA's "universal precautions" mandates treating all human blood and body fluids as infectious. It advises protective clothing, gloves, and face shields to guard against exposure. However, toilet paper, commonly used for menstrual product disposal, fails to meet these stringent standards. This discrepancy begs the question: How effective is toilet paper at addressing BBP exposure risk in public restrooms?
HBV, shockingly more infectious than HIV, saw about 19,200 new infections in 2014 alone. That same year, approximately 30,500 cases of acute HCV infections were reported. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it was estimated that in 2019 in the United States, there were over 323,700 cases of MRSA, leading to 10,600 deaths. Given that these viruses and bacteria can survive outside the body for extended periods, relying on mere toilet paper as a sanitary barrier is profoundly inadequate.
OB/GYN specialist Dr. Aungel Evans succinctly states that using toilet paper for menstrual item disposal is "neither sanitary nor hygienic." In frequently visited restrooms, menstrual receptacles become easily contaminated and often overflow with tampons, sanitary napkins, and blood-saturated toilet paper. This poses a substantial health risk to both the public using the facilities as well as the staff responsible for their maintenance.
The persistent neglect of proper menstrual waste disposal reflects a broader systemic issue — The marginalization of women's specific needs. In 2023, this remains an unfortunate reality in a myriad of arenas, from healthcare discrepancies to disparities in workplace policies. The facilities management industry, predominantly male-dominated, may unintentionally overlook aspects crucial to women's health due to a lack of lived experience. This isn't to lay blame but to underscore a potential gap in understanding, which could influence how policies and procedures are formulated and implemented. Addressing menstrual waste management in 2023 goes beyond a public health concern—it's a step towards recognizing and prioritizing women's needs in all spaces.
Shallan Ramsey, Founder of MaskIT®, offers an innovative alternative to the dogmatic toilet paper wrap: MaskIT® disposal bags. This touch-free, single-use disposal bag presents a safer, more hygienic method of removal and disposal. Its glove-like coverage ensures that the hand remains clean during the removal and handling of the menstrual item. The inversion process ensures that the exterior of the bag stays uncontaminated, and the permanent seal ensures that the menstrual item is properly enclosed before going into the receptacle. This addresses exposure risk concerns and affords the facility many additional benefits. For more details, visit www.MaskIT.us./facilitiessolutions
From a health and safety standpoint, the choice between toilet paper and a single-use disposal bag like MaskIT® is clear. Now, the onus lies with facility directors, custodial staff directors, and directors of user experience to prioritize the health and safety of their patrons and custodial staff.