Great Australian washroom survey
11 May 09 – The Great Australian Washroom survey, recently undertaken for Pink Hygiene Solutions in conjunction with Eco Air, invited hundreds of people to comment on their likes and dislikes in commercial and public washrooms. All facility managers charged with the cleaning, fitout or design of washrooms should heed the results very carefully. GINA KELLY reports.
It wasn’t long ago that being given the keys to the executive washroom was the ultimate indicator of corporate success. One’s value to an organisation was rewarded by the privilege of using the very best toilet facilities.
Today, corporations and commercial buildings are also being judged on their washrooms, with staff commonly reporting that the standard of their workplace accommodation is an indicator of how valued they are.
Furthermore, kitchen and washroom hygiene is an area of increasing concern for Australian workers, who are mindful of the risks of illness that accompany poor hygiene in public places.
Every time a toilet is flushed tiny droplets of water spray up from the bowl and land on the toilet seat and other washroom surfaces. These droplets are virtually invisible, yet they can contain infection-spreading bacteria such as E. coli. Such bacteria can be found several metres from the toilet and for up to half an hour after flushing. This is called the ‘sneeze’ effect.
It’s not surprising, then, that visitors are evaluating all public washrooms as a reflection of an organisation or venue, not to mention a facility manager’s capability. Whether it’s retrofitting, commissioning or upgrading, investment in good washroom facilities is essential. The results of recent surveys validate the expenditu
Australian washroom standards are being scrutinised carefully and the results of recent research undertaken independently for Pink Hygiene Solutions and Eco Air are therefore of immense value.
The Great Australian Washroom survey was undertaken among a broad range of 492 adults in Sydney and Melbourne to establish key behaviours and attitudes in regard to washrooms outside the home. The sample of people surveyed was evenly distributed in terms of key demographics, and broadly representative of Australian Bureau of Statistics household data.
The results show that Australians are very wary of using public washrooms, with the majority of respondents preferring to ‘hold on’ rather than use a public toilet, yet 98 percent need to use public conveniences at least several times a week.
When visiting public washrooms, we Australians will go to great lengths to avoid touching surfaces that others come into contact with (see Graph 1). The most avoided items to touch include the toilet seat (77 percent), flush button (47 percent) and the exit door to the washroom (36 percent).
This has led to some interesting behaviour in public washrooms.
The majority of Australians, or 55 percent, hover or squat rather than sit on the toilet seat. Known as a ‘kangaroo squat’, twice as many people now prefer to do this compared with 22 percent of respondents to Pink’s 2005 What Women Want survey. This shows a significant increase in concern over hygiene. In Pink’s survey of women’s attitudes, 70 percent said they discussed washroom cleanliness with their colleagues and they ranked the importance of clean, hygienic toilets at 9.8 out of 10.
The Great Australian Washroom survey found concern over hygiene has led to the adoption of elaborate exit strategies (see Graph 2) that involve opening doors of public washrooms with elbows, fingers, feet and paper towels rather than touch the door handle normally. Only one in three people exit washrooms using the door handle.
The survey clearly ranks washrooms by venue (see Graph 3). Perhaps not surprisingly, public toilet blocks are the most disliked of all. About one in four people would go out of their way to avoid washrooms in sporting and entertainment centres and one in five people avoid using toilet facilities in shopping centres.
From eight percent of women finding their workplace washrooms unacceptable in 2005, this year’s results show 11 percent of people avoid using the washroom facilities at work. This flies in the face of significant developments in washroom products and services that are now readily available in the Australian market. If you work in an office you probably feel differently, however, with 84 percent of people ranking offices second to hospitals and medical facilities as having the best perceived hygiene standards.
Interestingly, when asked about visiting washrooms of differing standards, one in five people acknowledge that ‘when you gotta go, you gotta go’ and don’t differentiate.
Design and fitout trends
Washrooms are increasingly seen as an important part of the total building experience, particularly in image-conscious industries such as hotels and restaurants. There is a growing demand for attractive dispensers and higher-quality products along with design going hand in hand with utility.
With greater awareness of how bacteria are transmitted from surface to surface in public washrooms, and the implications of this on public health, washroom users expect certain hygiene standards to be met.
The bar is constantly being raised, with new automated products featured in a range of public places such as airports. Sensors enable automated flushing of toilets, lids of sanitary bins to be opened, taps turned on and the dispensing of soap, paper towels or air for hand drying.
It is expected that a ‘no touch’ washroom will become a central feature in the washroom of the future. We may very well be able to enter and exit washrooms and cubicles, use the toilet, and wash and dry our hands – all without ever needing to touch a potentially unclean surface.
In the meantime, cubicle hygiene treatments, sanitisers and toilet seat cleaners are popular and effective in keeping washrooms looking good, staying clean and minimising health risks.
Tailoring washroom design functionality to the various needs of its users will also become more prevalent. While baby change facilities are now available in many public washrooms, many baby change rooms do not have a toilet, for example. In future, dedicated areas for children may have height-adjustable facilities, or family toileting could enable parents and children to carry out their toileting needs more comfortably. More attention will be devoted to washroom users with special needs. One thing unlikely to change in the near future is a rise in the number of unisex washrooms, as both men and women indicate a preference for privacyEco-friendly initiatives
The push towards more environmentally friendly building design and fitout has created a range of water-saving urinals and high-performance, water-efficient toilets. High-efficiency toilets use 20 percent less water (or better) than currently mandated standard toilets and some of the dual-flush toilets use as little as 40 percent less water. It is claimed that a 90 percent reduction in water use can be achieved with new urinal technology.
An uncontrolled urinal with a nine-litre cistern, flushing every 15 minutes, can useup to 315,000 litres of water per year. Specially designed, timed water management devices now fit directly onto the solenoid valve to control the flow of water to the cistern, allowing reduced urinal flushing to between four and eight times per day. New urinal sleeve designs contain bio-enzymes (good bacteria), which prevent the build-up of bad bacteria on the urinal waste trap, drain and pipe work, reducing blockages and offensive odour. Using the sleeve, foreign matter like cigarette butts or gum is caught and waste is simply washed out of the system on the next flush. Companies like Pink Hygiene Solutions have the technical expertise to maintain and service these systems at their optimum capability.
Advocates of air hand dryers also point to the reduction in paper products and waste generated by using these systems.
Eco Air has recently developed what is being hailed as a revolutionary new anti-bacterial hand dryer. As well as drying and sanitising hands in as little as nine seconds, it traps and kills germs in the air and removes bad odours, leaving the room re-oxygenised. Concept testing has delivered an overwhelmingly positive response, with even devoted paper towel users indicating their interest in switching to the new air dryer. To top it off, LCD screens facilitate advertising or educational messages. This has the potential for venues to promote daily events or specials and derive revenue from advertisers targeting messages to consumers in their buildings.
At the end of the day, washrooms need to be not only well-designed and hygienic, but also cost-effective. The total cost of service takes into account the total cost of providing washroom facilities, from the cost per washroom visit to the cost of maintenance. The focus will surely continue to be on providing effective hygiene systems that are high capacity and low maintenance – and, above all, simple to use.
Gina Kelly is a freelance writer and a director of Andrew Aitchison Architects, Sydney, New South Wales.
This special Hygiene Feature article first appeared in the April-May 09 issue of Facility Management.