Make a clean start with hands-free washroom controls

David Meacock, Technical Director at Cistermiser, reveals how introducing ‘no touch’ technology to toilet cubicles and taps can maintain a hygienic environment within healthcare applications and lower water and energy use

Infection control remains one of the great challenges for healthcare providers and washrooms are a notable case in point, not least because of the number of surfaces and user ‘touchpoints’ across which bacteria can be transmitted on areas such as light switches, manually-operated taps and toilet-flushing handles.

Visitors to hospital washrooms of course vary enormously, from patients to visitors, infants to elderly, staff to trainees and not everyone can be relied upon to wash their hands meticulously, particularly those who struggle to manage traditional fixtures and fittings such as a flush lever.

Healthcare washroom fixtures also need to be relatively robust, given their high levels of daily use. Something as simple as a broken flush mechanism, or even vandalism, can put a washroom out of action for days.

Infrared

Installing or upgrading washrooms to address these issues is easily done, at relatively little cost. For example, toilets with manual flush handles can be quickly upgraded with the addition of infrared (IR) sensors and hydraulic flush valves which can be fixed simply onto a standard cistern. The IR sensors ensure contact between user and washroom is minimised, either by a simple ‘wave action’ to flush, or a ‘walkaway’ option when the toilet automatically flushes once the user stands up.

IR sensors can work with urinal flush controls and are also used on taps – IR taps can be installed or retro-fitted onto existing basins at relatively little cost. These relatively simple measures mean hospitals can create a cleaner, easy-to-use facility that immeasurably improves the visitor experience. Meanwhile, by introducing no-touch mechanisms, hand hygiene should vastly improve and the potential for cross-contamination can be reduced significantly.

Facilities managers in healthcare establishments also have a responsibility to minimise water and energy use in washrooms – not least because of the high cost of water wastage. Taps may be left running – or simply drip – lights may be left on, while cisterns may have an unnecessarily high water demand. The older the building, the higher the likely water consumption, with the worst culprits almost certainly being the older urinals.

With no fitted flush controls they run continuously, regardless of the number of visitors to the facilities.

Flush control products as well as IR technology – as outlined above – can both deliver significant water savings. An IR- controlled WC cistern flush valve can save some 403,000 litres of water per year, based on five users flushing five times per day, 260 working days of the year. The financial savings in this instance, on average, would be around £975 a year, per WC cistern.

Complete solution

For those keen to introduce a more complete solution to manage both water and energy expenditure, there is the option of installing the latest generation of ceiling-mounted, sensor-controlled systems. Visitors to the washroom are detected by sensors which then automatically switch on the lights, ventilation and the water supply.

These systems can be smart, using ambient light sensors to turn on the lights only when natural light levels are too low, again to lower energy usage. Furthermore, if no one has been to the washroom for a period of time – usually 12 hours – a valve will automatically open for 30 minutes to fill the cistern and rinse the urinals and pipework to help keep the washroom hygienic and clean.

They are low-cost, low maintenance, and highly-effective pieces of kit that are easy to install, either retrospectively into an existing washroom or specified within a new facility. They also allow managers of large buildings such as hospitals, with two to three washrooms on each floor (gents, ladies and disabled), to control individual washrooms across different floors, switching these facilities on and off remotely.