Assign personal health a higher priority than product demands

By Robert P. Donovan

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As I write this column, I'm slowly recovering from a urinary tract infection (UTI). In confiding this bit of personal history to various associates, I was struck by the number of them who had suffered similar discomfort during the course of their cleanroom careers.

Even more striking was the number of them who attributed the affliction to “cleanroom cystitis,” a condition brought about by reluctance to take bathroom breaks during the workday.

The rational mind justifies this avoidance when it considers the inconvenience of leaving the cleanroom, removing all bunny suits and garb, exiting the cleanroom, running down the hall to the facility, returning to the cleanroom, regowning for re-entry and finally retuning to the recently vacated workstation.

Many of us, it seems, tend to postpone this inevitable bathroom run in favor of completing the work run underway or until it becomes less interruptive of the work schedule.

So, how real is cleanroom cystitis? I asked the Sandia Labs library to conduct a literature search for any documentation of the association between cleanroom personnel and the incidence of cystitis. Information on this topic is sparse. The most recent and relevant publication1 concludes: “In this study, we found that cleanroom workers had a higher prevalence of UTI and that frequent voiding during the shift was associated with a lower risk.”

This study, conducted in Taiwan, compared the UTI incidence of cleanroom workers at a semiconductor site with non-cleanroom workers at the same site. Diagnoses were based on laboratory culturing data, a questionnaire and a physical examination—all carried out as part of an annual health examination and with the worker's permission.

Participation at the site was 100 percent, consisting of more than 600 women and 400 men, with the cleanroom personnel outnumbering the non-cleanroom participants by nearly 2 to 1. Data collected by the questionnaire included frequency of water intake and voiding during the workday as well as UTI histories. Sure enough, after adjusting for age and frequency of drinking water, UTI prevalence proved to be higher among the cleanroom workers than among the non-cleanroom workers.

Perhaps somewhat surprising was that being female was identified as a significant risk factor (50 of the 52 UTI cases found in this study were in women). Not so surprising was the finding that going to the bathroom three or more times during a work shift—12 hours at this site—was a protective factor. The trends and correlations that stood out lend credence to the UTI/cleanroom association suspected by many within the cleanroom community.

My urologist suggests that cleanroom people drink lots of fluids and assign personal health a higher priority than product demands, as uncomfortable as that decision may make some production workaholics.

Robert P. Donovan is a process engineer assigned to the Sandia National Laboratories and a monthly columnist for CleanRooms magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]


1. Jian-Nan Wang, Shih-Bin Su, How-Ran Guo, “Urinary Tract Infection among Clean-Room Workers,” J.Occup. Health 44, 2002, pp 329 – 333


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