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Washroom tech

ChrisTranterWashroom specification is a serious business in the public sector. Not only must building operators ensure adequate prevention of MRSA, Legionella, Pseudomonas and other dangerous infections but there is also the issue of hot water safety to consider – no easy feat. Help is at hand, however, as Chris Tranter product manager at Bristan advises on the newest technologies designed to make easier work of washroom hygiene and safety

The importance of adequate washroom specification in the commercial realm is not to be underestimated. After all, although the washroom may often be one of the smallest rooms in a building it is potentially the one that has the greatest impact for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it’s a question of water safety. Among others, two key causes for concern remain in the risk of Legionella and Pseudomonas both of which are caused by bacteria found in water and can lead to grave health risks. As we all know, 2012 saw a public outcry following the tragic death of three babies in a Northern Ireland hospital as a direct result of Pseudomonas bacteria found in the water supplies. More recently, a UK hospital was fined £350k over two Legionnaires’ disease deaths, the issues were found to be inadequately cleaned shower heads and thermostatic valves on account of cleaning budget cuts. The sad reality being that both instances could have been prevented with some simple water safety measures.

1-electronic_infrared_intro_imageSecondly, there is the issue of cross-contamination. By its very nature, the washroom is a prime place for cross-infection caused by people touching surfaces infected by hands left unwashed after visiting the toilet. This can lead to all sorts of illnesses, some being serious, including salmonella, campylobacter, flu, diarrhoea, impetigo and, in the worst case scenario, MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) – thus infection control is a must.

It is also about reputation. A dirty or poorly equipped washroom can speak volumes; giving the impression that an organisation or business doesn’t care about its building occupants – whether that’s patients, visitors, staff or customers. That is not to mention the legal consequences of establishments such as hospitals failing to meet strict infection control standards.

Thus an holistic approach to safety and infection control are the two single most important factors when it comes to the washroom provision in healthcare, care, education and other commercial environments where duty of care is an absolute must.

But, with so much to consider and so many products now on the commercial sanitaryware market, where to begin?

Firstly, it is important to tackle Legionella and Pseudomonas. Here, the primary method is the use of hot water. Both diseases are commonly found in water whereby bacteria multiplies where temperatures are between 20-45ºC , thus water must be stored at 60ºC or above to limit growth.

However, this entails another very prolific safety consideration in itself; hot water temperature control. Each year, 20 people die and almost 600 are seriously injured from scalds caused from hot water. In the main these incidents involve baths, but hand washing and showering facilities pose a very real hazard too.

The problem is that, if water reaches a tap at the stored temperature, people can be scalded and, in severe cases, third degree burns can occur in just five seconds. This becomes particularly pertinent given injury from scalding is on the Department of Health’s ‘never events’ list, which means it must never happen and can be prevented.

So, what’s the solution? The recommendation is the use of thermostatic mixing valves anywhere hot water is delivered. For upmost protection, TMVs allow water to be stored and distributed at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria, but reduce it to a safe temperature at the point of use by mixing it with the cold water supply. More so, TMVs can maintain the desired water temperature even when the incoming water pressures/flow rates change. For Healthcare applications, TMV3 (D08 approved) rated thermostatic valves should be installed for additional
user safety.

Unfortunately, however, it is not as simple as an ‘install and go’. In order to ensure infection control is maintained it is vital to check the water temperature at sentinel outlets on a regular basis and conduct a hot water flush to ensure that the supply and flow points remain uncontaminated.

Of course, for the typical UK hospital, school or other public sector establishment already crippled with staff shortages and budget cuts, this additional maintenance, in terms of labour and cost, has posed an issue. Add to the equation, the fact that most traditional shower set-ups require a complete de-installation in order for the installer to access the supply point making it extremely cumbersome, and the recommended fortnightly maintenance flush has been deemed near impossible.

The good news, however, is that new technologies are coming to market to alleviate this inherent issue. At Bristan, for example, we have recently launched the innovative Opac bar shower and bath filler with incorporated TMV 3 control which have been specifically designed to aid ease of water temperature control and maintenance.

Completely unique to market, the Opac features an integrated isolation and hot flush mechanism which allows the mixed water passages to be flushed with hot water without a time consuming disassembly being necessary. This means that maintenance engineers can conduct a hot water thermal disinfection simply by opening the hot or cold valve as required with the simple turn of two grub screws.

To put the time saving into context, a typical hot water flush can take anywhere up to an hour with a traditional shower set up, whereas with the Opac the method can be completed in just 10 minutes. The result is drastically reduced labour time and costs for busy commercial environments – as well as optimised infection control and safety.

Onto hand hygiene and fundamental good practice constitutes arms bare to the elbows, lever taps that can be operated without using the hands (where the elbow is used instead) and, of course, good old-fashioned soap and water. However, even with these measures in place there is still room for bacteria to spread, but this can be avoided by the installation of taps that offer completely hands-free operation.

One example is the new infrared timed flow tap range from Bristan. These innovative taps use infrared technology to detect human presence and switch on the water flow for a set amount of time to eliminate unnecessary wastage. In this way, the non-touch mechanism alleviates the risk of cross-contamination, making the range ideal for use in all commercial premises seeking to optimise hygiene levels and ensure duty of care to the public.

Working in a similar vein is the latest infra-red automatic urinal flush product. This compact non-touch valve incorporates a clever infra-red mechanism which also detects human contact and automatically flushes each individual urinal after use, ensuring the minimum volume of water is used while urinals are flushed on point of contact to eliminate bacteria build up – again drastically reducing the risk of cross-contamination.

Amid growing pressures on commercial institutions to reduce infection count, the market has seen the arrival of new technology designed to achieve the complex task of ensuring infection control and hot water temperature safety in the easiest means possible. Thus, for the cleaning and hygiene operative the recommendation is to take stock of new innovations which can optimise safety, reduce maintenance costs, offer peace of mind and, above all, ensure occupant safety.

About Sarah OBeirne

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