The Covid-19 pandemic changed countless aspects of everyday life but for anyone with responsibility for property, one of the most important developments has been a growing public awareness about the importance of hand-hygiene and distance.
Prior to the pandemic, proper handwashing might have felt like an obligation; an example of good practice to pass on to the children. Today, it feels a lot more like a matter of life and death.
One consequence of that is that washroom visitors now have much higher expectations of the facilities provided by shops, businesses and public buildings. No longer will they be so ready to turn a blind eye to empty dispensers or faulty dryers. Good, effective facilities are expected. They are a reflection on a company’s brand and an indication of how seriously an organisation takes the safety and wellbeing of its visitors.
In this article, we’ll consider the various factors that building designers and facilities managers might need to factor in when planning a commercial washroom refurbishment, in light of changing public perceptions about risk and hygiene. In other words, how might commercial washrooms look in 2021 and beyond?
Designing-in Social Distance in Washrooms
A constant stream of public information posters and broadcasts reminds us of the importance of mask-wearing, hand hygiene and maintaining personal space. A two-metre diameter ‘safe zone’ around each visitor might be reasonably easy to preserve in a spacious supermarket or shopping mall café, but in the confined space of a commercial washroom, it’s a different challenge altogether.
The most obvious first step is to place a clear restriction on occupancy. It’s a sensible step, but one that’s hard to police in many situations, especially for those without the budget or staff resources to keep the room under constant supervision. It’s also a potentially tricky problem for employers with staff working shift patterns, or for public performance venues, both of which see pronounced peaks and troughs in user demand.
Another option is to redesign the layout and, ideally, to introduce a one-way system that means the paths of different users need never cross. This, of course, requires either two doors or one large door with some form of traffic-flow divider. If there is scope to install a second door, this can be an excellent way to improve through-flow without unduly restricting the room’s capacity.
For many organisations, such drastic structural changes may not be possible, in which case, there some more modest measures that can help with the washroom redesign.
One is to pay close regard to floor layouts and possible obstructions. For example, might a waste bin be causing an obstruction or a pinch-point close to a highly trafficked area such as a doorway? If so, could it be relocated? Could you fit a wide, slimline, wall-mounted alternative that frees up more space and gives people more room to move safely around one another? Or, thinking laterally, might it be practicable and cost-effective to fit electric hand-dryers instead? They might cost more to install but, conversely, they could eliminate the labour-intensive task of having to check and refill paper towel dispensers.
Dryers and Doorways
Good hand-drying plays an important role in minimising viral transmission risks. Wet and damp hands will be capable of harbouring many more pathogens and they will also tend to spread bacteria more quickly and widely. Thus, making drying facilities readily available is crucial.
Doorways are one of the most common locations for hand dryers and bins but as a result people are often forced to queue or congregate in one of the busiest and potentially most confined areas of a washroom.
Possible solutions include simply relocating the bin or dryers or, perhaps more usefully, making each wash station self-contained by installing a multi-purpose dispenser above each basin. They could contain, for example, a soap dispenser and either an electric dryer or a paper towel dispenser. Such combined units can be wall-mounted or set behind a mirror and they therefore take up no extra floor space. Better yet, by providing a 1-to-1 ratio of basins to dryers, designers obviate the need to queue elsewhere.
Browse Dudley’s Behind the Mirror range to find the right washroom solution for your facility.
Touch-Free Washroom Technologies
Good conventional washing with soap and water is the best and most widely recommended way of maintaining good hand hygiene. For designers, the most important requirement is that visitors find the facilities they need in any given washroom; but also, that they are kept fully-stocked and in good working order.
If users then employ the proper technique, the washing action will be physically removing pathogens from their hands while the soap attacks the structural integrity of bacteria and viruses, including SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19).
However, the pandemic has prompted a sharp rise in people reporting unease at using public washrooms, so for visitors who require additional reassurance, touch-free equipment might be a welcome addition. Touch-free washroom solutions include flush sensors on WCs, and other sensors on dispensers and dryers that activate automatically. With many people now better educated about surface contact contamination risks, minimising the need for handles and buttons could go a long way to reassuring people about the safety of the facilities.
Posters and signage play a twofold role. First, of course, they encourage washroom users to adapt safe practices and they provide a reminder at precisely the time and location where it is most needed. Second, they provide visible evidence that the organisation takes safety seriously. Whether that concerns the wellbeing of customers, visitors or employees, the provision of clear signage sends important signals about your brand and attitude towards corporate responsibility.
Signage is essential in the washroom itself, of course, and it should be placed either high enough on walls that it is not obstructed by washroom users or installed in sufficient numbers, by every wash station, so that every visitor sees the reminder. Additionally, however, awareness-raising posters should also be pinned to notice boards elsewhere in the building, in canteens and in other highly trafficked areas (especially nearby the washroom entrance) to raise awareness. They matter because their purpose is to remind people to actually use the facilities in the first place. And, again, the more widely you post these notices, the more people will recognise your organisation’s commitment to safety.
Finally, remember that we tend to become blind to the familiar. After a few visits to a room, its signage will tend to blur into the background: into a general impression of ‘the usual’. To prevent that, establish a policy of swapping and changing notices on a regular basis, using different designs, colour schemes and wording to keep the issue visible at the forefront of people’s minds.
Dispensers, Capacity and Demand
Heightened public awareness of the importance of hand hygiene has meant that washrooms are now seeing considerably more use than before the pandemic, particularly workplace washrooms. If people are now visiting to wash their hands after simple tasks such as opening doors or using elevators, or preparatory to visiting the works canteen, then clearly, there is going to be much greater use of consumables such as soaps and paper towels.
This imposes a requirement on washroom designers and maintenance staff to ensure that the facilities are kept well stocked. It also raises a question about the capacities of dispensers. After all, it might well prove more effective to install larger capacity dispensers than to assign maintenance staff the responsibility of making more frequent checks on washroom stocks and having to refill much more often. A basic analysis of traffic and stock levels should help to determine whether investment in larger capacity dispensers is worthwhile.
More use also implies more risk of wear and tear, so designers might also want to consider fitting new units that are especially robust. Stainless steel is an excellent choice for items that may be subject to frequent knocks and scrapes. Another option is to install ‘behind the mirror’ dispensers that will be much less prone to contact from people passing by. Discover our full Platinum range for stainless steel commercial washroom solutions.
Cleaning Schedules in Washrooms
Viruses can persist on surfaces for long periods of time, and this is just one of the reasons why people are reporting they feel uneasy about using public bathrooms. Every surface may be regarded as a risk, so it’s important that cleaning regimes are effective, regular and visible. That applies to the cleaning process itself – paying particular attention to high contact areas such as door handles, flush buttons and tap handles – but also to signage: making sure that visitors can see that the room is cleaned thoroughly and often.
Washrooms should be clean for all the obvious reasons, but they also need to look the part; anything that undermines the sense of hygiene, care and regular maintenance needs to be addressed. This might be anything from a broken tile to a cracked dispenser housing. There is a real risk that if people perceive a basin or a dispenser to be a risk to their health, they may forego the washing or drying process and simply leave. Others, on seeing the facilities, may decide not to use them at all, which for commercial operators, could translate into people taking their custom elsewhere.
Again, this is an argument for specifying more robust washroom equipment – with designs and materials that will withstand frequent use, regular cleaning and repeated contact with harsh cleaning agents.
Consult with Professionals
Planning a new or revised commercial washroom layout can be complex and challenging. There are numerous factors and examples of best practice to consider, and legal guidelines with which organisations must comply.
Consequently, it makes sense to take advantage of professional design advice wherever you can. A washroom specialist may be able to offer advice about specification, solutions that minimise longer term labour costs, statutory requirements and other valuable insights that could save you time and money.
Dudley Industries Can Help Specify Your Washroom
At Dudley Industries, our washroom specialists have over 40 years of experience and, through continuous professional development, they keep themselves at the leading edge of the industry. For more information on our washroom accessories, explore our full range of Washroom products.
For more advice on your commercial washroom refurbishment regarding washroom product selection, room layout, relevant legislation and more, please speak to our team who will happily guide you through the process to find the best solution on +44 (0) 1253 738311.