In turbulent times, any disruption in the supply chain can make life more than a little difficult. Stability becomes a more important factor than perhaps was previously recognised and that, coming into the winter ‘flu season, applies to washroom provision just as much as anywhere else. It is then that companies such as Northwood Hygiene Products with their backward vertical integration guaranteeing their own supply chain become especially valuable to distributors and end users alike.
Of course, Northwood are also part of the international commodity markets and global price fluctuations are inevitable, dictated by currency exchange rates, supply issues, transport costs and all the rest.
However, when a UK based company, which is focussed almost exclusively on all sectors of the UK Away from Home (AfH) disposable paper market does control much of its own supply chain, then in turn it becomes that much easier to deliver continuity and security of supply to their customers.
Northwood Hygiene Products are in the process of moving their Telford operations into a nearby new and purpose designed 250,000 sq ft site. From there, together with their other sites, they can continue to exercise quality control over the collection of waste paper, its recycling and converting and to the eventual manufacture of the Leonardo, Bay West and Essentials hand towels and toilet tissues for which they are so well known.
And it matters, because whilst organisations are legally obliged to provide washrooms for their staff, the usage of them is not always to a level that is capable of delivering appropriate hand hygiene levels.
Actually getting people to wash their hands, particularly after using the toilet is difficult, the oft quoted figure of 60% of men and 40% of women who don’t do so seems stubbornly difficult to change for the better. It might be universally agreed that the main cause of bacterial transference that spreads infection and so illness, is unwashed hands, but it is a message that does not seem to resonate in the workplace.
The best that can be done in the short term seems to be the removal of the more obvious barriers, such as dirty facilities, empty or broken dispensers and ineffective soap provision. Given the extreme time pressures in some work environments, even longer waiting times to use the facilities can result in users disregarding hand hygiene in their need to get back to their work station quickly.
It has been reported recently by the BBC that a trial is being undertaken in China to ascertain the value of unisex washrooms that reduce waiting times especially for female users. Bigger cubicles, higher internal partitions and the retention of some urinals are all part of the new design including separate disabled provisions. The results will be known in a few months’ time and whilst some people have reacted positively, others have their reservations, including one who, demonstrating unusually keen insight, noted that “men and women are different”!!!
Leaving that aside for now, the issues that can be addressed here more quickly are those of overall cleanliness and adequate hand washing and drying facilities. Helping in removing the physical barriers to washroom usage is an important first step.
Reports have shown that the habit of regular hand washing can be started (or not!) in primary and junior schools where again the main reasons for not using the facilities at all are widely shown to be bad odours, unclean washroom floors and inoperative toilets and basins.
Not all the problems are down to poor maintenance regimes. The effect of vandalism sadly still features, with a common manifestation being the introduction of hand towels into the toilet bowls causing expensive and disruptive blockages. As with much of this low level anti-social behaviour, its failure to cause inconvenience becomes its greatest motivation to stop doing it!
Bay West’s flushable 616 tissue which can biodegrade in 19 seconds, has been used in a number of this type of situation. The resulting marked decline in such incidents is evidence that prompt and effective action can provide a strong if subtle deterrent to discourage other incidents of these annoying behaviours.
Hygienic and welcoming washrooms result from sound maintenance and regular cleaning regimes. Obvious, but with minimum wages levels about to rise again soon, costs are a significant factor. So anything that helps cleaning operatives achieve the required standards more quickly and easily is a real benefit.
Dispensing systems such as Leonardo and Bay West that are easy to fit and locate encourage their adequate provision so reducing queuing time. These dispensers incorporate the latest inherent design characteristics that reduce the amount of dust attracting areas. Durable and easy to visually monitor, they are simple to wipe clean and refill, offering an offer immediate time saving advantage.
Add to that a larger tissue capacity so that the number of scheduled monitoring inspections can be reduced and single sheet towel presentation that discourages overuse and leaves tidier, easier to maintain washrooms and the cost in use benefits are quickly apparent.
Similarly soap dispensers that offer soap or foam dispensing (even hand sanitiser if required) with sealed, non-drip cartridges can again help to make their maintenance and monitoring a much more cost effective operation.
Hand hygiene is important, not just in the self-evident hygiene critical areas such as hospitals, care home and food preparation areas, but anywhere away from home. Washrooms in high usage areas such as shopping malls, motorway service areas, leisure facilities and sports grounds indeed anywhere where large numbers of people can inadvertently spread the bacteria that cause colds and ‘flu to all and sundry should all be key targets for improving standards. The wider consequences are rarely considered either. An embattled NHS could certainly benefit from people being more aware that unintentionally they may well be spreading the epidemics that can turn nasty and result in the need for hospital care.
Too much to ask? Well probably, but it is incumbent on all of us to recognise that without the provision of a continually well-resourced, well maintained away from home washroom, then no matter how successfully the importance of the hand hygiene message is promoted by other responsible bodies, the economic downsides and the sheer misery of colds and ‘flu will be spread more extensively than is really necessary. Making hand washing and drying an easy and pleasant task is a great first step to improving things.