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The post-pandemic washroom

22 June 2021

With businesses open again after a long period of lockdown due to coronavirus, customers and employees will be eager to see the measures they have in place to make their premises as hygienic as possible. Jamie Woodhall suggests that it’s time we redesign washrooms to make cleaning more effective for improved hygiene.

FULL TIME working from home is beginning to lose its appeal for many employees. A recent survey of 2000 office workers across the UK conducted by Ambius found that over half (52%) of office workers are looking forward to returning to the office for mental and wellbeing reasons, and this rises to 64% among those aged 18–34 years.

In preparation for restrictions to be lifted this summer, many businesses are reconfiguring their office layouts ahead of the return of workers. For example, Revolut has announced office brainstorming rooms called ‘Rev Labs’, while WeWork is planning to introduce touch-free coffee machines and motion sensitive doors to limit touchpoints and the possibilities of cross contamination for business residents.

But, what about in the washroom? They are typically small spaces with a high turnover of people visiting them, with many shared touchpoints and often with limited air flow. Germs and harmful pathogens, like coronavirus, are typically transmitted in three ways: person to person, surface to person and air to person.

The washroom is the one place that the majority of employees and visitors to a premises will use during the working day, making the facility a high-risk area for all three types of transmission. In this piece, I’ll explore five considerations for office managers and FMs in the planning and maintenance of washrooms, with steps that will assist with health and safety practices to reduce the transmission of microbes from one user to another.

1: Digital systems to support washroom management
Think about deploying a digital counting system in your washroom to clearly show users when it is at capacity, to avoid anyone waiting outside the cubicles while they’re in use. Washroom users will be more empowered to follow social distancing guidelines if they know that the washroom is full. 

There are also no-touch solutions available such as no-touch soap dispensers, taps and sanitary waste bins that help to reduce cross contamination via surface to person, while also helping businesses to manage their sustainability goals by reducing water and soap usage. Initial Washroom Hygiene has a range of smart hygiene products called Rapid>SmartHygiene, which includes sensor operated taps so employees don’t need to touch the sink, while water waste is reduced as water flow is stopped as soon as hands are moved away.

The solutions in this range also use connected, cloud-based technology that provides real-time data from soap dispensers, so that consumables are always replaced in a timely manner. Washroom insights also help to assist with cleaning strategies, giving professionals a greater understanding of when their facilities are in peak use and when they need to be cleaned.

2: The hygienic cubicle

As a result of the pandemic, users' expectations of hygiene levels are now far higher, and options such as providing surface disinfectant or toilet seat cleaner in every cubicle so that each new user can sanitise the seat before use are worth consideration. You should also look to install toilet paper dispensers that seal away the paper, so that users  do not need to touch the entire roll. To reduce the number of surfaces a user needs to touch even further, it’s also possible to install a no-touch flush for the toilet.

It’s important to ensure sanitary waste disposal bins are installed in both women’s and men’s cubicles. This is because continence (the ability to control movements of the bowel and bladder) related issues, a condition that affects men and women, are on the rise amongst the under 40s in the UK. Research conducted by Initial Washroom Hygiene with a sample of 100 GPs spread across the UK, found that over half (54%) believe new diagnoses of incontinence related problems have increased over the past two years. Almost all (97%) doctors who were part of this study said better access to disposal facilities in washroom environments would allow sufferers to lead a more normal life. 

Doing so means you are offering a safe, discreet and hygienic washroom experience. Not doing so could increase the risk of germs being spread and can result in washroom users flushing their products down the toilet, potentially leading to costly blockages in plumbing.  

Sanitary waste disposal bins should be touch-free, but where possible bin units should be wall-mounted too. Moving them off the floor makes the cubicle and wider washroom easier to clean as the floor can be mopped without the unit having to be touched thereby reducing the risk of cross contamination by isolating the unit.          

3: Clean air  

It is recognised that coronavirus can be transmitted via aerosols in the air, and The World Health Organisation updated its guidance at the end of April this year, to say that coronavirus is mainly transmitted when people are in close proximity (one metre) to one another. It makes transmission a high risk in poorly ventilated and crowded spaces. Many washrooms have reduced access to fresh air, and many don’t have windows at all, making them difficult spaces to adequately ventilate.

This means that air purification solutions could play a vital role in reducing the risks associated with airborne viruses and bacteria in indoor environments. There is a solution on the market called VIRUSKILLER, which kills 99.9999% of viruses with a single air pass, including coronavirus (when independently tested against coronavirus DF2 (a surrogate for coronavirus). Adenovirus, Influenza and Polio, the unit was found to kill 99.9999% of viruses on a single air pass.). The range has a wall mounted 401 unit designed that is specifically for smaller areas and is perfect for washrooms.

Unlike traditional air purifiers, the ultraviolet-C (UV-C) technology provides a photochemical deconstruction of the RNA and DNA of microorganisms. This deactivates their reproductive processes so that coronavirus and other viruses can no longer spread, before the clean, purified air is released back into the washroom. The solution was originally created in response to the 2003 SARS outbreak and has been tried and tested for more than 15 years.

VIRUSKILLER takes control of the airflow in the room when installed correctly, drawing contaminated air in from the ‘breathing zone’ and then releasing fresh, clean air back into the washroom. To limit the risks of air to person transmission it will be important for businesses to seek advice as to where and how many air purification systems should be installed. The unit can play an important role as people resume their normal lives, providing confidence and peace of mind that airborne transmission is far less likely in indoor environments where the technology is installed.

4: Healthy hands

Washing hands thoroughly after using the toilet significantly helps to prevent the spread of germs, bacteria and illness. In a post-pandemic washroom this means ensuring users are supplied with no-touch soap dispensers, an adequate number of socially-distanced hand drying facilities, and ideally, hand sanitising facilities as well. This is a vital third step, as after hands have been thoroughly washed and dried, using sanitiser provides an extra layer of protection to ensure that any leftover germs are dealt with.

You may also want to consider self-cleaning door push pads in the washroom facility. Hygienic door handles, called Surfaceskins, can be added to any push or pull door in any building environment. The push pads work by releasing a small amount of ethanol gel under the fingers and hands when pressed, which immediately self-cleans the area touched, ready for the next user. The door handles work in a similar fashion, releasing a small amount of alcohol gel from an internal bottle to self-clean the handle for the next user. 

5: Consider scenting

A study in 2019 by Initial Washroom Hygiene explored the implications of bad odours and found that 73% of those surveyed said an unpleasant smell in the washroom would negatively affect their perception of a venue.

You may want to think about installing air fresheners that automatically dispense fragrance to help neutralise odours and create a pleasant-smelling environment for washroom users. Scenting products and services are available that can help to control and minimise odours that come from malodour-producing bacteria.

Final thoughts
As businesses continue to prepare their offices for the return of workers, it’s critical to ensure that high footfall areas have been properly assessed for the transmission risks that they present. It will be important to maintain signage and social distancing policies even as restrictions are eased to give washroom users confidence that facilities are hygienic. Facilities managers can look to ensure public health guidance is adhered to with social distancing and hand hygiene floor mats, and reminders for users to wash their hands at the sinks after using the loo.
If you’re looking for support in ensuring your washroom has considered all virus transmission routes then it’s best to call in the experts. We can advise where air purification systems are necessary, the no-touch units that can be installed and the sanitary products that will enhance user experience and general wellbeing.

Jamie Woodhall is UK technical and innovation manager at Initial Washroom Hygiene.

For more information visit: www.initial.co.uk​