School washrooms: where teachers fear to tread

If there was ever a washroom that deserved a medal, it would be a school washroom.  Of all the hardworking environments in any public building, it’s here that the most wear and tear is often found.  Unlike corporate or hospitality environments, which are largely used by adults with a sense of responsibility for the comfort and hygiene of others, school washrooms are used by children and teenagers who often have a lesser grasp on the importance of leaving facilities as they find them.  Teens, especially, can be careless in their behaviour, with little consideration for the people who clean up after them or those coming behind them, whether that’s the next person to enter the stall, or the next year’s intake of students as a whole.

School washrooms are also subject to a unique set of circumstances that can contribute to additional wear and tear.  Unlike other environments that experience a steady stream of users across the day, school washroom usage comes in waves, with large numbers of students using them in the small windows of time between classes, and few at other times.  These periods of intense activity mean there are more people in a confined space at one time, which means damage to facilities is more likely to occur.  Unfortunately, washrooms are often the target for vandalism too – away from the prying eyes of CCTV, the school washroom may seem like the perfect place for bored or frustrated juveniles to vent their stresses through graffiti or prank behaviour.

As a result, the school washroom can be a pretty grim place that teachers and other staff wouldn’t dream of using.  Older facilities may really struggle to keep on top of hygiene in these areas because materials used even as recently as ten years ago simply don’t stand up to heavy traffic.

Partitions in particular can be a breeding ground for bacteria.  They are prone to splashback from toilets and very often made from particle or chipboard with PVC cladding that lets moisture in through joins or cracks.  It’s common to see swelling and warping of these partitions which further increases their capacity to harbor germs.   The use of non-porous phenolic or plastic partitions can eliminate this problem, with the added benefit that these materials are naturally resistant to scratches, dents, impacts and graffiti, which can be easily cleaned away without a trace.  The key benefit of these materials over metal – another ultra-hardwearing choice – is their softness of appearance, avoiding a stark, institutional look. Wall hung toilets and partitions that don’t extend right to the floor make for further ease of cleaning, with a number of significant safety benefits too.

Of course, partitions are not the only thing to consider.  Other washroom accessories can contribute to the safety, hygiene and overall aesthetic of a school restroom.  Accessibility for students with additional physical needs is a requirement for all schools, and the use of stainless steel grab bars ensures those needs are met in a way that is also robust enough to deal with undesirable behaviour of students who may swing, sit or doodle on these items.  Selecting high quality theft- and shatter-proof mirrors further helps to ensure safety.

Last but not least, hand dryers are usually the tool of choice for schools keen to avoid the huge cost – both financial and environmental – of paper towels.  However, there is some discussion around which is the more hygienic, with some experts suggesting that contaminated droplets can be propelled off the hands and onto the surroundings by high powered dryers.  ‘Hands in’ dryers that catch any falling water droplets are therefore becoming more popular, as are UV hand dryers which use ultraviolet bulbs to instantly kill pathogens on the hands and anywhere else the light hits.

With many schools likely to be closed until term begins again in September, now is the ideal time to evaluate hygiene in washrooms and clear out any dated fixtures and fittings that could compromise future infection control.  Contact Belroc to discover our comprehensive product range and find out more about our 3DX methodology, which ensures added value at every stage of your project.