The highest standards of washroom hygiene can be undone by unwashed hands at the exit door. But never fear. Dave Carson of P-Wave explains how everyone can make a clean getaway thanks to the rapid action of silver ion technology.
We’ve all been there … the dilemma in the washroom as one prepares to exit.
While washing and drying your hands, you’ve noticed another person leave straight after using the toilet. Or from past experience, you know that some people don’t bother with hand washing. So that door handle is hardly going to be hygienic. And touching it is going to undo your conscientious attention to hand hygiene.
You’ve probably seen or used the various contamination avoidance techniques. Trying to prise open the door with the elbow. Waiting for someone else to push through, or leave, before seizing the moment to escape, if necessary hooking the door with an elbow or foot. Where paper towels are provided, some people use these to protect their hands when pulling the door handle. Discarded, they can leave the place looking untidy, making more work for cleaners, and using up the towel supply more quickly.
These manoeuvres might seem like a petty pantomime of human paranoia. Except, it is a serious issue, and such anxiety is entirely rational.
Scientific tests – including our own independently conducted field trials – have shown that door handles and push plates tend to be a breeding ground for germs. E-coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Staph Aureus are among the common microbes colonising these touch points, especially washroom doors.
It’s a serious concern too for facilities managers, and their colleagues in HR worried about staff sickness, not to mention the impact on hospitals and wider society. According to the British Toilet Association, only one in three people always washes their hands after using the facilities. Meanwhile, researchers estimate that as much as 80% of infections are spread by touch.
And it happens rapidly. A study in the US tracked the impact of a virus on one door. University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba showed that this virus spread throughout the building in just a few hours.
As people touch door furniture contaminated with microbes, these adhere to their hands, and are then passed on to other touch points. Colleagues and other building users can pick up these germs. Studies also show that most people touch their own faces numerous times daily, often unconsciously, ingesting these micro-organisms through mouths, eyes or nose. Meanwhile, in our washroom example, the hand non-washers themselves leave a trail of contamination as they move around the building.
By the way, failing to dry hands – in our haste, because the electric hand-dryer is out of order, or all the paper towels are on the floor – significantly increases the risk of transmission. Statistically, damp hands are 1,000 times more likely to collect and spread bacteria as they stick more readily to skin.
So what can the facilities manager do about it? Beyond equipping washrooms and maintaining them to a high standard – so as to encourage users to wash and dry their hands – they hold little sway over people’s behaviour.
Clean toilets well stocked with fragrant, anti-bacterial soap and sufficient hand-dryers or towels remove some of the excuses people may make for failing to do the responsible thing. A sign reminding patrons to ‘wash your hands’ might nudge a few who would otherwise skip to the exit. Hand sanitisers – a common response to infectious outbreaks, and at entrances to hospital wards – also rely on public co-operation. Public education and the occasional shock-horror media report – such as the finding that ‘more than one in four Britons had faecal matter on their hands’ – may raise awareness, and hand hygiene practice.
But managers responsible for toilets and washrooms – and building hygiene generally – have had few weapons to combat the spread by touch of infectious microbes. Until recently, that is, as technology has now come to their aid.
Fortunately, for budget-holders trying to keep a grip on cleaning costs, this development is not a hi-tech piece of equipment with a price to match. Although advanced, it is a material that exploits silver ion technology to provide a highly effective anti-bacterial cover for common touch points.
Silver has, as well as its enduring value as a precious metal, other prized properties. For many years, it has been used in many applications – from chemical production to photography – but its role in medicine goes back thousands of years. In various forms, silver has been used to dress wounds, in eye drops, dentistry, and treatment of burns, curing and preventing infection. Small amounts of silver contained in the coatings of medical instruments can combat the spread of pathogens. The rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs will only serve to increase its value again in healthcare.
Silver’s anti-bacterial action stems from the effect of ions. In an ionic state – i.e., when atoms of silver lack one or more electrons – these atoms act as a catalyst, penetrating the cell membrane of microbes and absorbing oxygen. This destroys the pathogen and its DNA, so cells cannot reproduce.
Because the coating material uses ions rather than silver particles, it can exploit the precious metal’s anti-bacterial capability in a highly practical and cost-effective form.
The other beauty of silver in this application is that it’s non-toxic and entirely harmless for humans, or indeed, plants and animals. It is also long-lasting. A silver ion coating will continue to eliminate a broad spectrum of pathogens for months, including bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Anyone responsible for managing buildings, hygiene and infection control can now take advantage of this silver ion technology, which is also being exploited by manufacturers of washing machines and refrigerators.
Newly patented and manufactured here in the UK, Purehold anti-bacterial covers have been proven to be highly effective at reducing the microbial count on door handles and push plates. We have confirmed this performance in independent laboratory tests and trials.
The lab tests were performed to the recognised ISO 22196:2011 international standard. They measured the effect of the silver ion coating on three types of bacterium. The results were dramatic. The Purehold cover was shown to eradicate 99.99% of both the E-coli colony and Staph Aureus bacteria. For the third, Salmonella, the kill rate was 98.64%.
In the field, Purehold’s performance was also impressive. We commissioned analytical testing specialists Wickham Laboratories to assess its impact in a busy office environment and establish how this invisible technology performed in the ‘real’ world. With the help of a specialist analytical testing laboratory, two trials were carried out in a building with around 85 employees. These compared the level of contamination of standard stainless steel pull door handles with Purehold anti-bacterial covers. Three high-use doors were chosen: male and female toilets and the staff canteen.
In each case the handles were disinfected and then – after seven days to allow bacteria to build up – two swabs were taken from the upper and lower areas of the handles. Again, the difference was dramatic. Overall, the Purehold covered handles proved to be 96.4% cleaner, on average, than the uncovered stainless steel handles.
The Purehold silver ion coating is currently available in two products – the P-Hold cover for standard D-handles, and the P-Plate, which attaches to push plates.
They are simple to install, requiring no special tools or experience. P-Hold snaps into place around the cylindrical handle, so it can be fitted in 30 seconds. P-Plate is secured magnetically to standard, metal push plates.
These covers are robust and their silver ion coatings do not require special maintenance, or proprietary sprays or solutions. Just a normal cleaning regime is recommended.
Not only is the technology low-cost and low-maintenance, the Purehold material continues to protect human hands from contamination long after installation. The P-Hold is effective for six months, while the P-Plate carries on destroying pathogens for a full 12 months.
Each product has a visual indicator so staff know when they should be replaced.
Aesthetically unobtrusive, the P-Hold comes in a metallic ice blue or black finish, and has a pleasing grip. The sturdy P-plate, which has a silver finish, also bears the Purehold name, plus the message ‘Killing germs 24/7’.
Their long-lasting benefits – in avoiding staff sickness and enhanced infection control – will outweigh the low initial and replacement cost of the covers. Facility managers will also enjoy peace of mind from knowing they are doing everything they can to protect people from one of the most insidious sources of infection.
Washroom users, meanwhile, can be spared that awful exit door dilemma.