It has been a long year of restrictions for businesses across Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But as the vaccine rollout continues, much of the country is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
With reopening on the horizon, many facility managers and building owners are taking a fresh look at current operations to put safety and hygiene at the forefront of every public space.
One place not to be overlooked is the washroom.
While there is hesitation from many to return to public spaces in general, the hesitation may be even higher to return to public or shared washrooms. A recent study commissioned by Dyson found that 78 per cent of Canadians surveyed reported being more concerned with visiting a public washroom since the pandemic began. When it comes to public washrooms, unclean toilets (70 per cent), lack of toilet paper (56 per cent) and unclean washroom common areas (49 per cent) were some of the main frustrations Canadians citied in the survey.[i]
What is abundantly clear is that hygienic washrooms are a topic of consideration for Canadians returning to public spaces and should not be ignored.
Handwashing and drying are crucial
The importance of proper handwashing has never been so publicly discussed. At the start of the pandemic, many will remember the emphasis on re-educating the public on how to effectively wash hands to reduce the spread of germs.
The good news is that it seems people are listening. The recent study commissioned by Dyson found that 75 per cent of Canadians surveyed are less likely to leave the washroom without washing hands.i To continue to promote thorough and effective handwashing, facility managers must ensure that faucets are running properly at all times and soap is readily available.
Unfortunately, hand drying can sometimes be left out of these discussions but it can be equally important to stop the spread of germs. In fact, past research has shown that damp hands can transfer up to 1,000 times more bacteria than dry hands.[ii] When asked about what they would do to dry their hands if a washroom did not have any working hand dryers or paper towels, 32 per cent of Canadian respondents said they would let their hands dry naturally and 19 per cent said they would dry them on their shirts and pants.i Both could be bad options, potentially jeopardizing hand hygiene. So, it is crucial that facility managers keep hygienic hand drying solutions just as accessible as water and soap.
When assessing what washrooms will look like in the future, it seems clear that touch-free technology is only going to increase in popularity. These days it seems that almost every piece of technology in the washroom can be made touch-free, from automated toilets to sensors in faucets. In the same Dyson commissioned study, about 42 per cent of Canadians surveyed said one of their biggest hygiene concerns related to using hand dryers was having to press a physical button, with 63 per cent of respondents saying touchless activation of a hand dryer would put their mind at ease when using hand dryers.i These findings highlight how important a touch-free solution is for washroom users who may already be feeling a bit apprehensive about returning to public spaces.
One final thing that should not go overlooked in public washrooms is the importance of clean air. This can mean both the air within the space and, more specifically to hand drying methods, the air being expelled from hand dryers.
The Canadian Government has acknowledged that proper ventilation can play an important role in reducing the transmission of COVID-19 indoors. It’s advised that facility managers follow the government’s recommendation on ways to improve ventilation as much as possible as they begin to welcome more guests back into their spaces. The government has also provided additional suggestions such as considering adding HEPA air purifiers to spaces as a supplement to HVAC systems.
On the topic of clean air in washrooms, the term aerosolization has come to the fore much more frequently in the past year than ever before. But much confusion still persists on what this actually means and the activities that cause it.
Aerosolization is the action of creating aerosols. Aerosols are tiny liquid or solid particles – or a mix of both – suspended in a gas (e.g. air). Their composition can vary depending on how they are formed and may include bacteria or viruses. New Dyson research, conducted by a third-party lab, sought to determine the effects of different hand drying methods on concentration of aerosols. The results showed that aerosols can be generated in a washroom due to a number of different activities from walking around and using a faucet, to drying your hands with paper towels or a hand dryer. There was no significant difference in the increase in aerosols numbers. In fact, findings from the study showed that aerosol and bacteria numbers after drying with any Dyson AirbladeTM hand dryer was comparable to the numbers obtained when hands were dried with paper towels.
When it comes to the air being expelled by hand dryers, again, the importance of hygiene is evident from the responses coming from the Dyson commissioned survey on washroom attitudes and behaviours. Twenty-seven per cent of Canadian respondents cited drying hands with unclean air as one of their biggest hygiene concerns in washrooms when drying, with 44 per cent saying that filters, which clean the air used to dry them, would ease their concerns when using a hand dryer.i Facility managers should take care when selecting hand dryers to look specifically for technology that incorporates HEPA filters into the product. As air passes through the HEPA filters, particles are captured so that purified air exits the machine to dry hand hygienically.
As we continue to learn what our new normal will be over the next few months, ensuring hygienic, safe environments is going to a top priority for all businesses. Facility managers should make sure they consider washrooms as they outline new ways of operating. A few small considerations can make a big difference for the end user.
Dr. Salomé Gião, MEng MSc Ph.D. CSci, is Dyson Senior Claims and Performance Manager and has worked on Dyson’s Airblade technology to ensure all performance and scientific claims are accurate and substantiated. Ms. Gião has a Ph.D. in Chemical and Biological Engineering/Microbiology. During the development of the latest Airblade machine, 9kJ, she worked with the different teams, from engineering to commercial and legal, to ensure all data was adequate to substantiate the performance claims. She also works with different teams giving scientific advice on several topics including microbiology and hand hygiene.
[i] Global survey conducted in July 2020 across 14 countries worldwide (UK, DE, ES, FR, IT, NL, US, CA, MX, CN, JP, MY, SG, AU) with 8758 respondents in total (500 in Canada), aged 18 years-old or above. Individual percentages vary per country.
[ii] Patrick D, Findon G, and Miller T (1997). Residual moisture determines the level of touch-contact-associated bacterial transfer following hand washing. Epidemiol. Infect. 119: 319-325