Washrooms are a hotbed for microorganisms to grow - and the public washroom, where people throng at all times of the day, is definitely a vulnerable space to be in. While washroom hygiene has been upgraded over the years, and its maintenance procedures and schedules become more stringent, it is important to take a closer look at how to continue to mitigate risks of contamination through the washroom.
This is where the smart washroom comes into play. David King, Managing Director, VERTECO, talks about how the smart washroom is changing. Public washroom hygiene has become paramount for every one - from the housekeeper to the CEO of a company to a VIP customer and even a mom who just wants to change her baby. We all use the washroom, and no matter how perfect your experience in the overall facility may be, a dirty washroom will taint it. And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it has gained even more importance.
In the UAE itself, there is a huge disparity in the quality of public washrooms. The reasons are plenty - inefficient allocation of cleaning resources, limited manpower, limited stock or just the standard of the building or that of the plumbing infrastructure.
One of the biggest challenges is in spreading awareness for the need for good, well maintained and hygienic public washrooms. For instance, it has been known that flushing the toilet without the lid on can release a mist in the air - and microorganisms use that mist as a medium. But it is now even more apparent in the current situation!
Washrooms can become really dirty environments if not maintained properly. So resource allocation is a huge challenge for facilities and cleaning teams. For example, if the maintenance schedule is an hourly one - it may work fine, but if the cleaner has just cleaned the washroom and someone enters it two minutes later, dirties it and leaves, then there are 58 minutes left before the next cleaner comes in. So then, what happens is that everyone that comes in after for the next 58 minutes will have an unpleasant experience.
At such a time, if one is not prepared, resource reallocation can become difficult and time consuming. Using smart washroom technology records these kinds of issues and can also predict potential risks and alert cleaning people of influx of users at one time on their hand held devices. This will help them allocate the resources in real time and allay an issue.
Nowadays, sensors can be placed across the washroom to measure various aspects of a washroom. These sensors - if strategically placed - can assess indoor air quality, humidity, wet floors, etc., apart from the usual suspects like dispenser alerts, etc.
People are being held to a much higher standard of cleaning now with the current pandemic - and this is probably for the better. We are seeing cleaning or FM companies also struggling to make this shift due to higher demand and use of traditional methods. So for example, occupancy has become an issue due to social distancing, you don’t want toilets out of order or people queuing up. Hence, there’s an increased interest in footfall management.
As a result, you now have devices that monitor the occupancy of a washroom in realtime, and set alerts on a screen outside that washroom so that when it reaches its capacity, potential users are also alerted. These screens can also redirect the user to the next available washroom down the corridor or provide an average wait time.
There’s also a heavier focus on hand hygiene, so management of soap dispensers, increase in use of sanitizers, is a huge job in itself. Sensors reduce the headache - so you can program these dispensers such that when they reach a certain level, an alert is sent out and they can be replenished before they run empty. These sensors also provide reports for stock and display when the washroom was last fully sanitized so that the user is constantly reassured.
These sensors and screens are a great add-on to already smart washrooms. Moreover, in pre- COVID days, users would rarely be aware of what was contributing to their user-friendly experience - but now, people are almost hyperaware and need reassurance and peace of mind. These IoT devices provide just that.
The moment you talk about advanced technology, cost becomes a huge deterrent. But, we believe, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. With smart solutions, you are constantly measuring and making decisions on the basis of those results. The smart devices are essentially giving you benchmarks, alerts and forecasting information that allows you to make better decisions. It can support your communications to leadership and can help with hygiene in customer service. And there is hard data to support it. The data can be used to justify addition, deduction or reallocation of resources using real facts. Of course, there is an initial investment, but it all ties back to an effective RoI.
A recent report conduced in the US has suggested that customers’ washroom experience is a huge factor in them returning to the facility. The report found that 50% of the people who encountered a dirty washroom said they wouldn’t return to the facility again. And from that, another 50% would tell their family and friends. The report also said 86% of the people who encountered a dirty restroom at a restaurant thought that the kitchen would have had the same hygiene issues.
As a result, the hyperawareness of the public with regard to hygiene can be allayed with using such technology. It does sound high tech, but people overestimate the cost and underestimate RoI. We are keen to dispel that myth. Smart washrooms can help tell a great customer care and cost savings story.
About the Author:
David King is Managing Director of VERTECO. A Dubai resident for over 20 years, he is passionate about water saving and environmental technologies. Throughout his career, David has focused on delivering the latest in environmental solutions to the region and was the first in the Middle East to commercially deliver a fully integrated smart washroom concept. Having grown VERTECO from the ground up, over the last 10 years David has worked with many of the UAE’s biggest companies, such as DEWA, Dubai Airports, EMAAR, Majid Al Futtaim, Ethihad Airways and many more, to help them achieve sustainable solutions and environmental goals. David is widely regarded as the region’s leading authority in smart washroom solutions and water sustainability.