Christmas is coming and people everywhere are planning to party, socialise and visit friends and family. But sadly, Yuletide is also the season for colds, flu and new COVID variants. Lee Radzki from Tork manufacturer Essity considers the importance of reducing cross-contamination in the public washroom during the winter holidays.

The stakes are high this Christmas as everyone strives to stay fit and healthy in order to be able to enjoy the festive break with friends and family.

But our memories of 2020 are all too recent and we know how great a blow it can be when our Christmas is suddenly cancelled – whether on a countrywide scale or simply due to a family illness.

As new variants of COVID-19 emerge and the flu season kicks in we are all understandably nervous about falling ill. But there is little we can do to eliminate the risks altogether – short of staying at home alone for the entire Christmas break.

There are certain steps we can take to reduce the chances of contracting an infection or virus, however. The simple act of washing the hands is now known to significantly reduce the risk of contracting various illnesses. And hand-washing is easily achievable at home where most of us have immediate access to running water, soap and towels.

But the situation is different in public places such as restaurants, pubs and hotels. Festive celebrations here tend to lead to large numbers of people drinking more excessively than usual. So this means guests in party venues will potentially be paying more frequent trips to the washroom and the facilities will become crowded and congested as a result.

It is difficult to avoid coming into close contact with other people in a busy toilet, so the risk of becoming infected will inevitably be greater here. Meanwhile, people are less likely to practice thorough hand hygiene if they have been forced to stand in a lengthy queue to use the facilities in the first place.

When a venue’s washrooms are particularly crowded the cleaning teams come under greater pressure, too. They are expected to thoroughly clean all surfaces to reduce the risk of cross-contamination, but this can be difficult to achieve in a busy washroom where everyone is fighting for space. And the fact that they will need to continually replenish the soap and paper dispensers can also be a problem. Run-outs will lead to further congestion, both in the cubicles and at those sinks where the soap and paper supplies remain in place. And it can be difficult for staff to stay on top of the refilling task at all times.

Meanwhile in the retail centre, shops will also be particularly busy around Christmas which again puts pressure on the washrooms. The staff here will need to be able to maintain the toilets quickly and unobtrusively to avoid clashing with washroom users and creating bottlenecks.

However, the pressure on any busy washroom can be eased by employing a combination of technology, good planning and long-lasting systems that are easy to top up and that are designed to speed up the washroom visit.

For example, Tork Vision Cleaning is a digital system that allows cleaners to check on refill requirements and cleaning needs via a smartphone or tablet. This avoids the need for staff to have to make multiple checks on the washrooms, freeing up space in the facility while also reducing the cross-contamination risks.

Data on dispenser levels and frequency of washroom use are logged via a network of sensors and this data is uploaded to the internet. Cleaners are then able to target those washrooms where extra attention might be needed, either because the dispensers are running low or because the facilities are coming in for heavy usage.

A long-lasting supply of soap and paper is essential during the busy Christmas period because this will reduce the risk of run-outs. For example, the Tork SmartOne toilet paper system has been designed to give out one sheet of tissue at a time, reducing consumption by up to 40%. And this in turn reduces the number of maintenance checks required.

The Tork Twin Coreless Mid-Size Toilet Roll Dispenser also works well in a busy venue because it comprisestwo tightly-wound rolls that together contain the same amount of paper as nine conventional rolls. When the first roll has been used up, the second can immediately be accessed to ensure a continuous supply.

All soap systems in busy washrooms should be easy to use, quick to refill and slow to run out. For example, Tork Foam Soaps are supplied in a sealed cartridge that serves up to 1650 visitors before needing to be replaced. The unit requires a particularly low push-force for ease of operation and the cartridge can be clicked into place in seconds by the cleaner.

Hand dryers can lead to long queues since they require washroom visitors to stand and wait for their hands to be thoroughly dried. Alternatively, a high-capacity hand towel dispenser will allow visitors to take a towel and move on, drying their hands as they go while freeing up the unit for the next user. In high-traffic washrooms a continuous supply of hand towels will be required to avoid run-outs. For example, a system such as the Tork PeakServe Continuous Hand Towel will dramatically reduce queueing since each user is supplied with a towel in just three seconds. This allows washroom visitors to take a towel and leave the floor space free for the next person. Meanwhile, the dispenser eliminates the risk of jams which further helps to speed up hand-drying.

Tackling the problem of washroom congestion is only one way of reducing the risk of contracting illnesses during the festive season. But other measures can also be employed to enhance the safety of washrooms: for example, the facilities should be kept well ventilated by installing fans, leaving windows open where possible and replacing the outer doors with partitions to improve the airflow.

Strategically-placed signs and posters will help to remind people of the importance of hand hygiene and the risks involved with touching contaminated surfaces. And hand sanitiser dispensers should be sited in prominent places and kept permanently topped up to supplement the hand washing facilities.

Being ill over Christmas is something we are all keen to avoid – and publicly-used washrooms can present a clear cross-contamination risk. However, washroom providers can play their part in keeping people healthy by facilitating good hand hygiene; reducing the crowds and by ensuring there is a long-lasting supply of soap and paper products provided.

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