A modest proposal: How about a cleanroom restroom?

By Robert P. Donovan

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Last month, I broached a potentially touchy subject of “cleanroom cystitis,” or the documented higher incidence of urinary tract infections (UTI) among cleanroom workers compared to that of non-cleanroom workers at a semiconductor facility.1

Too often, cleanroom personnel delay bladder relief due to the inconvenience and time associated with visiting a restroom located outside the cleanroom and, as far as I know, restrooms are always located outside the cleanroom.

A visit to an external restroom entails leaving the cleanroom, degowning in the adjacent change area, exiting the change area, finding and using the restroom, returning to the change area, regowning and finally reentering the cleanroom.

Data from the study referenced shows a significant inverse correlation between UTI incidence and the number of bathroom visits a cleanroom worker makes during a work shift; supporting the conclusion that deferring the call of nature in favor of the manufacturing mission contributes to UTI. This month, I appeal for help in improving this unnecessary suffering.

My solution: The cleanroom restroom.

Incorporate restroom facilities within the cleanroom so that cleanroom workers have the option of quick relief without exiting the cleanroom or changing cleanroom garments. A cleanroom restroom shouldn't be all that difficult or expensive to design and incorporate—just the addition within the cleanroom of a well-isolated enclosure or two that contains the needed fixtures and plumbing, much like an airplane lavatory. Cleanroom apparel might also require some minor modifications to facilitate restroom procedures; but no major technical issues would seem to block the installation of a usable cleanroom restroom.

The purpose of a conventional cleanroom, of course, is to preserve product health. Clearly, this function and capability cannot be compromised by the cleanroom restroom. But human health and well-being must also be protected; and, indeed, having healthy, comfortable cleanroom personnel manning a facility undoubtedly contributes to product health.

The cleanroom restroom is for those who, for whatever self-imposed reasons—work-in-progress, hot lot deadlines, exciting data collection—routinely postpone the inevitable restroom visit as long as they possibly can, thus increasing their vulnerability to UTI. Having the option of a quick dash to a cleanroom restroom without garment changing seems much less of an interruption or distraction than the trip to the outside restroom, making timely relief much less of an issue for most of these procrastinators.

My suggestion is not intended to be frivolous. A cleanroom restroom would save worker time, require less cleanroom garment maintenance and supply, as well as reduce cleanroom UTI. Above all, the employer who installs such a convenience would be making an undeniably sincere statement that cleanroom people count.

And so, loyal reader, have a chuckle if you must; but maybe, just maybe, a visionary—an unconventional soul—might take this issue seriously enough to act.

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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