Have you ever wondered about the process of the restroom sanitation staff? If your answer is no, then you had better stop reading now. It's not a profession often examined closely in film or television, or even reality TV. After suffering some unsettling close encounters, I can understand why.
Some months back, I happened into the workplace restroom while Alberto of the cleaning staff was in the middle of a job.
Usually they have up a "closed for cleaning" sign while they are working, but there was no such notice this time. I wondered if perhaps Alberto (which is his real name) had simply forgotten, if perhaps I should not have been there. I took in a quick view of the room, however, and I concluded that this was not a full job; he had his cart of water with him, but he was not mopping or doing anything else that should have required a traffic-free environment. No, Alberto was busy scrubbing a urinal, and since I was only there to wash my hands before going to lunch, I decided it was fine for me to be in and out quickly.
With the sinks opposite the urinals in this arrangement, I could see Alberto's back in the mirror. He was working with a conventional toilet brush. I noticed that he was dipping the brush into the bowl's own water and using that to scrub the walls of the urinal.
I must confess, I don't do a lot of toilet cleaning myself, so I was surprised to learn that this was how it was done. What was the use then of that tub of water he dragged along, which I had always assumed was filled with cleansing chemicals? But I couldn't think of any approach that would have been much more sanitary, and Alberto was a professional after all, so I wasn't about to tell him how to do his job.
Then I caught something more disturbing. From scrubbing the urinal interior, Alberto then proceeded directly to use the same toilet brush and the same toilet water on the flush lever.
Okay, so the urinal is dirty, and the urinal handle is also dirty. That's not news, am I right? That's why the last thing we do in there is wash our hands.
Well, not quite, and it was my next restroom run-in with Alberto that I witnessed something truly scary. He was using the same toilet brush to scrub the restroom door's steel push plate! Not only would a simple towel have been a more efficient instrument for this job, but the use of the toilet brush effectively negated any benefit from washing one's hands before exiting. And the audacity of Alberto to do it right in front of me!
Yes, I already knew that the push plate was also dirty. Dirty people put their dirty hands on it after all. That's why I always used a paper towel to handle any restroom door. Now I knew I was not being excessive. If anything, I may not have been cautious enough. From that day forward, I made sure, given the option, to only exit the restroom by using the kick plate. With my foot, I don't possess the same level of precise control as I would with my hand, so anybody on the other side had better watch out, but these are the methods that ugly truth has driven us to.
Today I ran into Alberto again in the restroom. This time, he was not just the custodian but also a "client," so to speak. After he finished enjoying the fruits of his labor, he walked directly out--no flush, no hand washing. These are the people that we trust to keep our workplaces clean. Perhaps he knew better than to touch anything in that restroom (although he still had to push the door to exit).
In a somewhat related grievance, the management promised us months ago, after requiring us to clear our desks of personal items, that a benefit would be that the custodial staff would be better able to clean our areas in the evenings. Well, I've had to watch the dust pile up on my practically empty desk several times now, each time ultimately cleaning it myself. So what did we gain?
Yes, it's a dirty job all right.