By Robert Kravitz
Many administrators of park and recreation facilities love electric hand dryers, and the reasons are clear. They virtually eliminate the need to store and purchase paper towels, which can be a real cost savings. Custodial workers report that restrooms stay cleaner when the hand dryers are used. Plus, these units can be installed in satellite restrooms around the park, eliminating the need to deliver and transport paper products from one location to another, often in a distant area.
However, administrators should be aware of some possible pitfalls with these devices. A study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection in 2018 found that electric hand dryers can spread health-risking pathogens onto surfaces and into the air, and these pathogens have the potential of being picked up on hands or inhaled, spreading disease.
The study addressed hand dryers such as older, traditional ones that blow out warm air, but the focus was on the newer generation of hand dryers, sometimes referred to as jet-air dryers, or JADs. These newer systems blow out large volumes of air to dry hands, but do not necessarily warm the air.
The study did not criticize the effectiveness or use of JADs. In fact, in their discussion, researchers pointed out there can be a cost savings because the dryers eliminate the need for paper towels, and the newer JADs are also more energy-efficient. The only performance criticism mentioned in the study was by the National Health Service (NHS) of the UK. NHS guidelines suggest that JADs “should not be installed in clinical areas [because they] are noisy and could disturb patients.”
So, the problem is not the machines; it’s actually how people wash their hands.
The Goal Of The Study
The researchers believe many people still do not thoroughly wash, rinse, and then correctly dry their hands when using public restrooms. Because of this, researchers wanted to know if pathogens on their hands could spread when an electric hand dryer was used. And if so, could pathogens become airborne, coat nearby surfaces, or be inhaled, resulting in the spread of disease?
To conduct the study, researchers selected two restrooms each in three hospitals in the UK, France, and Italy. The restrooms were equipped with paper-towel dispensers, JADs, or both. Restrooms did vary as to what the researchers called “footfall,” referring to the number of people using the restrooms; however, they were all relatively similar in size.
The restrooms were thoroughly cleaned before testing began to prevent earlier contamination from skewing the results. Then, to conduct the tests, surfaces, including floors, sinks, walls, under doors, and around the JADs, were wiped with sponges. The sponges were then transported to laboratories to test for pathogens. Air samples in the restrooms were also collected using unique filtering systems.
Altogether, 120 air and surface samples were collected over a 12-week period. Here are some of the key findings:
· Bacterial contamination was found on all restroom surfaces tested, but most specifically in those restrooms where JADs were installed.
· The UK hospitals had the most contamination; however, this was because these were the busiest of all the test locations.
· The Italian restrooms had the least contamination, but they had “markedly lower” footfall.
· Overall, bacterial counts on test surfaces were, statistically speaking, “significantly greater” where JADs were installed, compared to those restrooms using paper-towel dispensers.
· In all the restrooms where JADs were installed, counts of bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA, enterococci, and other varieties, were higher—often considerably higher—and bacteria were found far more frequently compared to those restrooms where paper-towel dispensers were located.
· Similarly, air-sampling tests found more bacteria and pathogens collected in those restrooms with JADs versus those using just paper-towel dispensers.
What Park Administrators Need To Know
Researchers made clear they were not recommending JADs not be installed in medical facilities, nor are we doing that here.
However, researchers did confirm the following:
· Restroom users do not always wash and rinse their hands properly, causing pathogens to remain.
· If hands are dried using paper towels, those pathogens are most likely absorbed into the paper towels, which are then disposed of in waste containers.
· When JADs are used to dry hands, contaminants can become airborne, spread to nearby surfaces, and then spread again because they are gathered and collected in the restroom ventilation system.
What recreation and park administrators need to know is this situation can be addressed most effectively in one way, through more effective and more frequent hygienic cleaning. This is crucial, and all the more important, because in so many cases no special attention or care has been placed on cleaning areas around JADs or surrounding surfaces.
To keep these areas clean and to minimize or eliminate surface contamination, custodial workers must perform the “two-step”:
· First, all surrounding areas near the JADs must be cleaned using an all-purpose cleaner and preferably a microfiber cleaning cloth and microfiber mop head for cleaning floors. The cloth and mop head should be changed frequently.
· Second, the same areas must be wiped down again, this time using a general or broad-spectrum disinfectant.*
Another option is to use what the worldwide cleaning association calls “spray-and-vac” or “no-touch” cleaning systems. Essentially, these machines dispense cleaning solution or a cleaning solution/disinfectant onto all surfaces. The same areas are then pressure-rinsed clean. Moisture and soils and pathogens from the area are then vacuumed up.
Further, park administrators should consider purchasing an adenosine triphosphate (ATP) monitoring system, now offered by many manufacturers. With these systems, surface areas are swabbed; the swab is then placed in the unit that, within seconds, provides an ATP reading. If the reading is high, health-risking pathogens may be present, and the tested area needs to be cleaned. **
Even though park and recreation administrators have so many tasks on their plates, it is unfortunate that one more thing must be added. However, caring for the health of the most frequent users of the parks—children and older adults—by preventing the spread of illness through proper and effective cleaning brings a benefit that is clearly worth the extra effort required.
Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*A broad-spectrum disinfectant is effective against a variety of types of bacteria and pathogens. General or broad-spectrum disinfectants are used in all kinds of facilities, including residential, commercial, institutional, and other sites.
**ATP monitors do not detect pathogens. A high reading, however, serves as a “heads-up” that pathogens may be on a surface.
E. Best, et al. “Environmental contamination by bacteria in hospital washrooms according to hand-drying method: a multi-centre study,” Journal of Hospital Infection, December 2018, pages 469–475.