Decreasing Health Risks in Restroom Design

    By Dan Storto
    Senior Vice President, World Dryer

    There was a time when the cleaning and maintenance of public restrooms was not much of a topic for discussion. However, with the heightened public awareness of dangerous infections such as MRSA and H1N1, the contributions to these diseases associated with institutional and commercial restrooms has become a matter of heightened scrutiny. Now, facilities managers, acutely sensitive to hygienic issues, are finding themselves in a position of designing, renovating, operating, and cleaning public facilities to address these latest strings of concerns that have refocused the public’s attention on restroom cleanliness.

    Because of the raised awareness surrounding the need to minimize or eliminate the risk of infection related to restrooms, terms such as “hands-free” and “touchless” have become commonplace among facilities managers and their patrons. The reality is no one wants to touch something where someone else’s bacteria-laden hands may have been. Therefore, facilities managers are seeking alternatives such as motion-sensor soap dispensers, automatic faucets and touchless hand dryers that help eliminate the need to touch surfaces.

    Of course, hand hygiene plays a fundamental role in minimizing the spread of infectious diseases, bacteria, viruses and parasites. Dangerous microorganisms and bacteria harbor on the surface of the skin; however proper hand washing with soap and water, coupled with sanitary hand drying techniques, can dramatically reduce the spread of harmful disease and bacteria—especially in highly public areas such as food preparation institutions, school facilities, and clinical/medical environments.

    Hygiene is in the eye of the consumer

    Because people do not want to handle something that someone else has touched, automation is quickly becoming the norm in most public restrooms. Therefore, manufacturers have responded to consumer-driven concerns by minimizing the need to touch any surface in a public restroom whenever possible. As an added measure of sanitary control, manufacturers of air hand dryers have developed technologies directly aimed at addressing these infectious diseases as well as improved efficiency and dry times.

    For example, some of the newer air dryers feature embedded anti-microbial additives that use disinfectant substances to kill or inhibit the growth of microorganisms such as germs, mold, and bacteria as a way of further improving the hand hygiene process. In fact, studies have shown that anti-microbial technology is 99% effective against e-coli and MRSA. Touchless hand dryer models prevent further contamination from buttons, knobs and levers, proving to be more sanitary than other hand drying alternatives. Additionally, in recent years proactive hand dryer design teams have placed strict emphasis on drying time, product hygiene and consideration of the holistic hand hygiene process. Some manufacturers offer drying speeds as quick as a mere 10 seconds which is three times faster than traditional dryers, helping to ensure adequate drying that avoids the risk of water-based transfer of contaminants.

    The need for sanitary conditions is widespread

    As a general rule of thumb for facilities managers, consumers gravitate towards products that reduce the risk of cross-contamination. While these types of concerns traditionally were more often associated with hospitals and other medical institutions, it appears all facilities now have to rethink their restroom strategies to incorporate more touch-free products—especially schools. Because educational facilities tend to be breeding grounds for many germs and flu-related bacteria, schools have become keenly aware of the importance of touchless hand drying options. By providing students with as few touchpoints as possible, users can get in and out of restrooms faster and more efficiently with less need for touching common surfaces which typically contribute to the spread of illness.

    While the importance of keeping the customer happy goes without saying, it is critical that facilities managers do not overlook their employees’ needs as well. Used paper towels can be left scattered in restrooms, which can lead to serious bacterial growth. Therefore, these restrooms will need to be cleaned often and the cost of labor to keep these facilities properly maintained along with the risk of infection for your employees increases dramatically. Perhaps that is yet another reason hand dryers seem to dominate the industry, leaving less waste on the floors and overflowing from receptacles.

    At the end of the day, there is one thing everyone can agree upon and that is the fact that proper hand washing, as well as effective hand drying, will lead to a dramatically lower rate of bacteria growth and lessen the spread of disease. Minimizing exposure to contaminated waste materials and germ-filled surfaces can help reduce the risk of infecting your patrons. Therefore, as you begin to rethink your public facilities’ design strategy, be sure to do the proper research on what technologies are available to you—and don’t overlook the importance of good, simple hygiene.

    Dan Storto is senior vice president for World Dryer, a leading global manufacturer of hand dryers for over 50 years. He can be reached at dstorto@worlddryer.com.

    As seen in Building Services Management, May 2012 issue.