Many organisations are now considering how to reopen their facilities and enable employees to return to work safely. The washroom is one of the areas of the building where hygiene is of most importance, and the global pandemic has led to a growing interest in ensuring that safety and hygiene are built into washroom design from the start.
Why washroom design is so important
COVID-19 has affected how we use all aspects of the buildings in which we live and work. It’s clear that some aspects of building use are going to have to change significantly in order to enable us to adapt to living in a post-Covid world. Particular attention needs to be paid to common areas of buildings, none more so that the washrooms. Operating clean and hygienic washrooms in the common areas of buildings will be absolutely paramount when it comes to controlling the spread of the virus as much as possible.
We’re learning more about Covid-19 and how it spreads all the time and it’s clear that the key elements of a strategy to limit transmission will be: –
- Ensuring surfaces are clean and virus-free
- Enabling people to maintain a physical distance from each other
- Encouraging good personal hygiene (in particular regular and thorough handwashing)
- Limiting opportunities for the virus to spread in droplets or aerosols through the air
All four of these need to be considered when it comes to designing communal washrooms for the post-Covid era. Conventional washroom design, as the World Health Organisation has acknowledged, has some significant shortcomings when it comes to hygiene and safety in a post-Covid world. The WHO has distributed advice instructing washroom users to use paper towels to turn off taps after washing their hands. Clearly, this approach is suboptimal and future washrooms will need to be touch-free by design rather than requiring users to come up with such ‘work arounds’ in order to feel safe.
Peter Collignon, a professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at the Australian National University, says the surfaces of taps and doors are a particular problem in public bathrooms, particularly in relation to viruses shown to be present in faecal matter.
“The major way coronavirus is transmitted is via respiratory droplets, so you can catch it off surfaces that your hands touch … There are other ways, it can even carry in faeces too. About 60% of patients show that. We need to have public bathrooms open up as lockdowns ease, but the more non-touch we have the better.”
Prior to the pandemic, infection control was not a priority in building design. However, the steps that building designers and facilities managers take now to make their facilities safer as regards COVID-19 will also make them safer just in general, as Peter Collington says:
“It’s time for a rethink on lots of things, and bathrooms are one of them. Covid-19 and rates of other respiratory viruses are all dropping as a result of our hand hygiene and distancing measures so far. For the next year we’re going to have to focus on Covid, but these measures could significantly reduce a lot of infections if we continue seriously with hand hygiene. Infection control and protections should be as vital to bathroom design as fire safety.”
Employers and landlords also need to remember that health and safety legislation means that they have a legal obligation to ensure the safety of their staff and customers. This means that poor washroom facilities are not only dangerous but may well be illegal also.
With that in mind we’ve produced this guide to safer washroom design. In it we explain all the things you should consider when working to ensure that your washrooms are as safe as they can be. There’s advice for people who are considering refitting their washrooms completely, as well as tips that are relevant to those who need to work with their existing set up.
We discuss various ways in which communal washrooms can be made safer and more hygienic. Whilst there’s clearly a cost associated with change on this scale, many of the solutions we suggest are not only more hygienic but also much more efficient so organisations can reduce water use and cut their water bills at the same time as ensuring that their washrooms are safe and hygienic.
Download your free copy of Water Management for Safety and Cost Reduction.