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March 26, 2020

The Commercial Restroom’s Role in Healthy Hygiene

Andrew Warnes has been on the frontlines of water technology standards for nearly 20 years. Having lent his expertise to support the World Health Organization while also working as part of the negotiations for microbiological treatment standards between the U.S. and the European Union, Warnes is well-versed in what it takes to promote sanitary and hygiene-friendly restroom environments. Currently in the process of transitioning from being Sloan’s Product Line Manager for Faucets to the newly created role of Technical Training Manager, Warnes is leading Sloan’s charge to improve public health and combat contaminants in public bathrooms through training and education.

What spurred Sloan to create its new technical training position?

Sloan products are everywhere because they’re easy to use and they work. As our products become more varied and complex—and as they go from being single units to systems and integrated devices—we realize that training for specifiers, architects, designers, contractors, and more becomes all the more important. It's not just a matter of face-to-face training, though that’s a critical element, we're also in the process of ramping up our online and virtual training systems so that we can deliver quality information as needed 24/7 anywhere in the world. This effort was in the works before “self-isolation” and “social distancing” entered our vocabularies.

If there was ever a time and place to serve as a reminder of how important it is to train remotely, it’s right here and right now. My job is to prepare and help implement Sloan’s vision for training as we move forward into the 21st century and our new reality.

How are commercial restroom fixtures as a whole helping to promote proper hygiene?

First and foremost, Sloan products across the entire commercial restroom, from flush valves and faucets to soap dispensers and hand dryers, are now preventing the need to touch surfaces when it isn’t necessary. Anything that eliminates or reduces the number of surfaces the user has to touch cuts down the potential for cross-contamination, be it bacteria, virus, bodily fluids, feces, chemicals, and more. 

When you walk into some commercial restrooms today, you probably notice devices that aren't automatic. Those doors, light switches, soap dispensers, and even hand sanitizer dispensers can be touch-activated or require physical contact. They represent opportunities for improvement and the public is driving the move to touch-free. If you thought it was a trend before COVID-19, just wait for the demands and expectations after this epidemic. Could those Sloan engineers who invented touch-free products back in the day have even imagined it? 

Is it possible for plumbing products to train their users how to adopt proper hand hygiene techniques?

As recently as the 1990’s, a large percentage of the public had no idea what to do when confronted with a touch-free toilet or faucet. Now most people take them for granted, so much so that I’ll admit that even I will occasionally wave my hand absentmindedly in front of a manual faucet and wonder why it won’t turn on. Despite their familiarity with touch-free technology today, that doesn’t mean people use it to achieve effective handwashing. Repeated research indicates that the public either does not always wash their hands or, if they do, they will take much less time than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended 20-second scrub time. Our own Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled Optima® faucets launched almost two years ago are measuring and reporting millions and millions of actual hand washing experiences. I’ll be very interested to see if current events increase actual average scrub times, and if those increases eventually trend back down to pre-COVID-19 scrub times.

Sloan currently provides LCD display screens that actually guide users in healthcare environments to perform CDC-compliant handwashing. Sloan’s BASYS® Solar LCD Healthcare faucet walks the user through an initial rinse, a soap and scrub, and then another rinse, and gives a countdown for the duration of each for the user. That information is also stored inside the faucet so that the organization can remotely measure the percentage of CDC-compliant handwashes that are occurring.

Let me also mention that I’m a huge fan of using data to improve public health and hygiene.  Accurate, actionable data is a fundamental ingredient in the recipe for change—and that goes for hand hygiene as well as public health.  Almost 20 years ago, I was personally involved in efforts to support water treatment systems in Hong Kong hospitals during the SARs outbreak. Pure safe water was needed for drinking, dialysis, medical formulations, and a host of critical uses, but due to lockdown we had no way to get trained service technicians into the facilities and no way to get equipment condition or failure mode data out. Fast forward to several years ago when we started to develop IoT-capable products, we did so with learnings from those situations. With the capabilities built into our new Optima® faucets, we can support quarantined facilities, extract relevant technical data remotely, and even help customers when our own technical support personnel are working remotely. It’s another way that plumbing products are now training their users, but not in the ways you’d expect.

Beyond touchless products, how is Sloan working towards solutions for healthier hand hygiene?

In terms of mitigating other potential hygiene hazards, there are bacteriostatic materials that can be incorporated into device surfaces to reduce the prevalence of potential contaminants. This is something that Sloan has implemented with CuVerro® alloy on our manual flushometer handles.

There are a lot of restrooms today that do not have automatic sensors on their flush valves and don't have the funds to convert over to automatic sensors. When implementing CuVerro alloy on the flush handle itself, the product effectively reduces contaminants over time to promote a sanitary environment even though the user touches the flush valve. In locations like a public airport where a restroom might be disinfected with a cleaning solution once every eight hours, CuVerro can actually inactivate bacteria at a faster interval than the regularly scheduled cleanings.

How would you describe the rapid shift to where we are today?

Up until very recently, the organism of most significant concern in plumbing supplies was Legionella, and it was starting to become more prevalent in the minds of facility managers. That concern has quickly shifted from water-based infection to human-to-human transmission, and it’s our job to find any method possible to control or reduce this type of spread.

The reality is that humans have to share commercial restrooms, and it’s now as important as ever to implement training and tactics that mitigate potential health risks in these environments. That’s something I’m proud to be working on for Sloan. We’ve been a leader in innovation for over a century and it’s in our DNA. Current events drive home the importance of what our industry does to support public health. Take it further and think about the world 100 years from now. I have no idea what kind of vehicles will move us from place to place, but I’m pretty sure that at each stop there’s going to be a restroom, and it’s going to be smart, clean, healthy, and Sloan. To me, that’s pretty cool!

This is the 15th edition in a series of Q&A segments with Sloan subject matter experts for their take on where the commercial restroom has been, what it’s evolved to now, and where it’s headed. A previous edition on flushometer trends can be found here.

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