Who Is Responsible For Venting The Restroom?

Question:

My office shares a restroom with several businesses in our office complex. The restroom has a ventilation system but it is either turned off or doesn’t work. We have complained to the owner for over a year about the smells that linger in the restroom–odors, lysol, perfume, hairspray, etc. I have severe asthma and I am constantly having severe attacks that affect my attendence due to the fumes in the ladies room (the odors even bother employees with no respiratory problems).

Does the building owner have an obligation to provide adequate ventilation in the restroom? There are no windows that can be opened.

Signed,

Sick of the Smells


Answer:

Dear Sick of the Smells:

I can imagine your situation is frustrating, but there are probably no city or state regulations requiring venting, unless unusually strong chemicals or vapors are present. Your situation of being allergic to the various fragrances that build-up, is fairly common, I’m sad to say. But still, there are rarely any requirements for building owners to take action about the situation. If you think there is a chance that the situation is so extreme there might be a state requirement about it, you could contact the Office of Safety and Health for your state and see if there are any requirements for venting.

It might be more effective for the owner of your business (hopefully with the cooperation of the other business owners) to make a few demands as tenants. I would like to think the owner of your business would support employees in that way. At the very least the building management should use the ventilation system that was installed.(Probably it doesn’t work and they don’t want to fix it.)

Another thing to consider is just how determined anyone has been when they have talked to the building owner. An occasional verbal complaint that no one follows up about will probably not get much attention. Fifty letters, one from each employee, will be noticed.

In the meantime, try these more basic approaches:

1. Wear a medical mask when using the facilities. I know that’s awkward, but I also know some people who do it as a way to avoid cleaning fumes that bother them.

2. Have a small, personal fan that is battery operated and aim it at your nose and throat when you are in the facility, swapping hands as needed. The same people who use the medical masks use this method as well. It sounds extreme, but they say they no longer get headaches after going into the ladies room and it is worth the hassle to them.

3. If your condition would respond to it, ask your doctor for an inhaler or other treatment you can use immediately after being exposed to the various vapors and fumes in the bathroom. If you have chronic respiratory problems you probably have a doctor who deals with similar issues quite often. so perhaps he or she has suggestions as well.

4. Ask if the door can be propped open between use, as a way to provide some ventilation. Maybe a fan could be installed high up on the wall to avoid having it stolen, but to allow for it to move the air out.

5. Ask other employees to refrain from spraying hairspray or other fragrances. I don’t think this will help because someone who would spray it in a small, unvented room, is probably not thinking of others anyway. But, it might be worth a try.

6. This last idea will sound extreme, but I have done it myself. If there is another office building nearby, go there. I used to go to another building to avoid the filth in a bathroom I would normally have had to use. I tried cleaning it myself over and over and over, but it never lasted. So, finally I just started using the bathroom in another building. Even in the snow! I hope some of these ideas will at least encourage you to keep at it, so you and others don’t have to suffer. Best wishes to you and if you have the time, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.