Door furniture – from pull handles when exiting the washroom to push plates when entering the staff canteen – can be a smorgasbord of germs. Dave Carson of P-Wave explains how high-tech, low-maintenance covers can combat the spread of illnesses and infection.
As the old saying goes, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t …’ – to adapt the maxim for humans – make them wash their hands after they’ve been to the toilet.
And that seems to be the case no matter how fragrant the soap and well-equipped and serviced the washroom.
According to the British Toilet Association, only one in three people washes their hands after using the facilities. Our national newspapers have also quoted a study that found ‘more than one in four Britons had faecal matter on their hands’. This may have been intended to shock people into being more mindful of their hand hygiene, but alas, many of us bipeds are less willing to be led than our equine cousins.
Some dismiss this behaviour – which may be mainly down to indifference or ignorance – as just another human foible or lapse of etiquette. But it’s more serious than that for the public health of everybody else.
Those unwashed hands go on to deposit potentially harmful microbes on touch points around the building and beyond. The first foothold in this germ invasion is the pull handle or push plate on the toilet exit door.
These are a handy breeding ground for microbes. E-coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Staph Aureus are among the pathogens commonly found in large concentrations. Viruses too can dwell on door furniture generally. Studies by microbiologists, such as Charles Gerba from the University of Arizona, have highlighted how a virus can spread throughout a building in just a few hours.
Having washed our hands, we can easily pick up these microbes as we leave the washroom. What’s worse is when washed hands are not dried thoroughly – their dampness makes them a thousand times more likely to gather pathogens lying in wait on these surfaces.
All of this may be depressing for facility managers and cleaning teams, and it’s surely troubling for employers concerned about levels of sickness and absenteeism. It is estimated that 80% of infections are spread by touch, so the role of contaminated door handles in spreading illness is not to be overlooked. But the point of this article is not to make people throw their hands up in horror – as we try prising open the public toilet door with our elbows.
Technology has given us a highly effective counter-measure, beyond the polite power of the widely ignored ‘Please wash your hands’ sign.
Namely, silver ion technology. Apart from its decorative value, silver has for many years had other applications, notably in healthcare as an anti-bacterial material. Silver ions incorporated in a coating exploit the precious metal’s ability to penetrate the cell membrane of microbes, at far lower cost. In an ionic state – ie, lacking one or more electrons – atoms of silver destroy the pathogen and its DNA, so cells cannot reproduce.
None of this is harmful to humans or indeed, plants or animals. A silver ion coating has another advantage over chemical sanitisers as there is no risk that it will create resistant strains by allowing microbes to mutate. The sanitising action is also longer acting than spray treatments.
As a result, silver ion technology is being exploited in washing machines and refrigerators, and most recently, anti-bacterial covers for door handles and push plates.
Manufactured in the UK, these newly patented products are proving to be highly effective. Their silver ion coating eliminates a broad spectrum of pathogens, including the bacteria already mentioned, as well as viruses and fungi.
Their anti-bacterial performance has been confirmed scientifically in independent laboratory tests and trials here in the UK.
Performed to the recognised ISO 22196 international standard, the lab tests measured the effect of the Purehold silver ion coating on three types of bacterium. The results were dramatic. The coated cover was shown to have eradicated 99.99% of the E-coli colony and the same for the Staph Aureus bacteria. For Salmonella, the kill rate was 98.6%.
Away from the lab, Purehold’s performance was also assessed in an office building with 80-plus employees. These independent field trials compared the product – when fitted to male and female toilets and the staff canteen – with stainless steel handles, as a control. The covered handles proved to be 96.4% cleaner, on average, than the uncovered fittings.
Technological advances must be practical and affordable if the benefits are to be enjoyed widely. Fortunately, the covers designed for standard pull handles and push plates – respectively, called the P-Hold and P-Plate – put silver ion technology within easy reach, as they are simple to attach, low-cost and don’t require special maintenance. A normal cleaning regime is recommended, with no need for proprietary sprays or solutions.
The P-Hold handle cover can be fitted in less than 30 seconds without special tools or training to standard D-handles; the most common cylindrical designs in the UK having a diameter of 19mm, 20mm or 22mm. Not only are they robust, the silver ion cover continues to combat pathogens for six months.
The P-Plate is just as easy to install, again with no need for special tools or experience. It is secured magnetically to standard push plates and sanitises for a full 12 months.
Each product has a visual indicator so staff know when they should be replaced.
Aesthetically, the covers are 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’.
So perceptive washroom users may share the peace of mind enjoyed by managers responsible for their health and welfare. They in turn will also find the cost-effectiveness of this added protection reassuring.
The low annual cost of a P-Hold or P-Plate should soon be repaid in the savings from avoiding staff sickness and the effects of the many illnesses and infections contracted through touch. These are likely to be significant.
Another proverb, about gift horses, comes to mind.