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Don’t forget the nuts and bolts of washroom hygiene

22 May 2015

With the average sink containing up to 100,000 germs and a typical toilet seat harbouring as many as 40,000, it pays for businesses to get washroom hygiene right, explains Nigel Crunden, business specialist at Office Depot

Almost two thirds of men and almost half of women do not wash their hands after completing their ablutions according to a survey carried out by Initial Washroom Hygiene. Office workers come into contact with 10 million forms of bacteria per day so it is vital that business owners encourage good practice with regards to washroom hygiene. Not only does this create a healthier working environment, but it also reduces sickness absence and can increase productivity.


The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) highlights that employers must provide both education about good hygiene and sufficient facilities to maintain it. One way of achieving this is to install mobile sinks strategically throughout the business with signs reinforcing messages of the importance of good personal hygiene. This educates the workforce and provides more frequent opportunities to eradicate harmful bacteria throughout business premises.


Touchless technology

When thinking about the build up of bacteria in the washroom, touchless technology has come to the fore. This is illustrated by a recent US survey by washroom product supplier the Bradley Corporation. It found that 57% of respondents stated that they prefer to operate a toilet flush using their foot, rather than their hands to avoid coming into contact with the toilet handle itself. Touchless technology is normally installed in areas of the washroom where bacteria build up is most prevalent. For example, by using sensors that activate a toilet to flush or a tap to run without the need for physical contact.     

However, it is a common misconception that avoiding contact with washroom units altogether means that hygiene levels will improve and the spread of bacteria is reduced. Despite the belief that hand dryers help in maintaining good levels of hygiene, they can actually facilitate the spread of germs. A team of researchers at The University of Leeds demonstrated this by measuring airborne bacteria levels around both warm and jet air dryers. They found higher amounts of germs around both types of dryers than they did around a towel dispenser. 

Furthermore, if a rota of rigorous cleaning is not strictly implemented alongside educating workers then the incorporation of touchless technology is arguably counterproductive. Selecting multipurpose cleaners can help to better guarantee the eradication of bacteria as they often work across a wider variety of surfaces than specialist alternatives. 

Businesses should probe their suppliers to offer a multi-purpose cleaning solution where possible – if this is available then it could be a more viable alternative. Consolidating cleaning requirements by using multi-purpose products not only helps make cost efficiencies but also saves on storage space otherwise taken up by countless specialist products.


Design details

With this in mind business owners should take into account practicalities with regard to the accessibility of a washroom and how easy it is to clean. Although it is important to consider how closely washroom design fits with the culture and branding of a business, day-to-day usage and maintenance should lead any decisions. For example, washroom features with a traditional feel may be more difficult to clean and service. It may be best to opt for a more modern, minimalist washroom design that is easier to clean and maintain in the long-term.

Beyond this, meeting the day-to-day needs of the workforce should be factored into any decision making. For example, it might be that showers and changing facilities are of benefit if a significant amount of people cycle to and from work. Naturally, employees who feel their needs are being more closely met are likely to work harder so this area is well worth considering. Consulting with the workforce where possible to ascertain what needs they have can also help as employees then feel they are part of a decision-making process and more valued as a result.

Selecting the right kind of washroom for a business is far from a box ticking exercise primarily because of the need to combat the spread of bacteria. This is why regular cleaning and maintenance of the space must be prioritised at all times and run parallel with ongoing efforts to educate the workforce. While it is important to go beyond the basics through selecting the right design and practical features, maintaining a fit, healthy and motivated workforce should be the priority.