All hands on deck

Regularly, Bradley Corporation conducts its "Healthy Hand-Washing Survey." This year's survey results revealed bathroom turnoffs and trends to look for in 2016. I spoke with Jon Dommisse, director of Global Marketing and Strategic Development at Bradley Corp., to gain more insight on the information from this year's survey results.

SC: Can you give me some background on the survey?

JD: This is the eighth year that Bradley has conducted the Healthy Hand-Washing Survey. Our latest survey, released in January, queried 1,062 American adults online, from December 10-13, 2015, about their hand-washing habits in public restrooms and concerns about germs, colds and the flu. Participants were from around the country, 18 years and older, and fairly evenly split between men and women (47 and 53 percent respectively). 

SC: How does Bradley Corp. utilize the survey information?

JD: Our company has designed and manufactured hand-washing products for 95 years — in fact, 2016 marks our 95th anniversary.  Our expertise is the public washroom space and safety hygiene — we make specialty multi-sink systems, lockers, safety eyewashes and most anything in a commercial bathroom for business customers worldwide. 

As the industry and marketplace evolves, we look to keep a pulse on America’s hand-washing beliefs, behaviors and preferences. This survey is one important vehicle for helping Bradley continue to improve and innovate our products and technologies and keep them customer-focused. And, as Bradley continues to reach out to customers globally, for the past three years we’ve replicated this hand-washing survey in United Arab Emirates (UAE). For the most part, the results have been fairly similar between the two regions.

SC: According to survey findings, almost 70 percent of people (a 20 percent increase since 2012) have reported an unpleasant experience in a public restroom. Why do you think there’s been such an increase?

JD: It was stunning to see that almost 70 percent of people experienced unpleasant conditions in restrooms — and disappointing that those numbers increased 20 percent in the past three years. Likely due to tight facility management budgets, there’s less time available to keep up with cleaning and maintaining restroom areas.  But, we’ve found that businesses that skimp on cleaning are unwittingly turning off their customers. When we asked respondents to name the most important improvement they’d like to see in restrooms, they overwhelmingly said, “Keep them cleaner and cleaned more regularly.” That suggests there’s definitely a cleanliness issue with commercial restrooms. 

Plus, since we’ve initiated the survey eight years ago, we’ve heard loud and clear that consumers believe a bad restroom indicates poor management, lowers their opinion of the company, and shows the business doesn’t care about customers. It’s clearly in business and facility owners’ best interests to invest the time in more regular cleaning and maintenance to keep up restroom appearances.  

SC: I was surprised to learn that 60 percent of people surveyed reported using their foot to flush the toilet. Why do you think people go to such extremes as to avoid touching anything in the bathroom?

JD: Yes, people have a very real contempt for germs in restrooms — and they’ll do almost anything to avoid coming into contact with surfaces. They can be pretty creative i.e. the foot-flushing maneuver. We understand that facilities can have problems with flushers being broken because flushers aren’t meant for feet. But, we’re a bit surprised that this has been the number one way people say they avoid germs in restrooms.

Flushing with feet isn’t the only “avoidance strategy” we’ve uncovered. There were 56 percent who reported using a paper towel to avoid contact with door handles, 43 percent who use a “butt bump” to open and close doors to avoid using hands, and roughly 30 percent who use paper towels to avoid touching faucets and flushers. When we hear survey results like these year after year, Bradley is even more motivated to design and manufacture hands-free products.

SC:  Please go through some other crucial findings, and what they Bradley Corp. has interpreted them to mean.

JD: When we asked for people to name their biggest frustration,s they mentioned the following as “extremely or very aggravating.” These pain points are in addition to toilets that aren’t flushed and have a really bad smell. They should be on the top of every facility manager’s restroom maintenance list:

  • Toilet paper dispenser empty or jammed
  • Partition doors don’t latch closed
  • Overall appearance is old, dirty or unkempt
  • Soap dispenser is empty/jammed or doesn’t dispense enough
  • Towel dispenser is empty/jammed or doesn’t dispense enough
  • Water collecting on floor 

Another question we asked was how often people wash their hands in restrooms.  There were 94 percent who said they always wash with soap and water, which is great. But, we also asked how often people see other people leave the restroom without washing hands, and found that 80 percent say they frequently or occasionally see others leave without washing. So, there’s a bit of a hand-washing discrepancy there. It’s very important for people to wash their hands in public facilities to help stop the spread of germs that cause sickness. The CDC is emphatic about washing with soap and water to minimize germs. Of those who acknowledge not washing their hands, most people blame a lack of resources in the washroom — no soap or paper towels. They also point to non-working or extremely dirty sinks.  

One other interesting finding is that using cell phones in restroom stalls is not off-limits for the majority of Americans. Texting, checking/sending email, checking/posting on social media and surfing the web are the most common activities. A cell phone “fun” fact: 8 percent of men say they’ve checked their fantasy sports league in the bathroom.  With this prevalence of cell phone usage in restrooms, it may not be a big surprise to hear that London scientists say one out of six cell phones tests positive for fecal matter. This is a bit ironic, seeing that Americans have such an aversion to germs in public restrooms.  

SC: Your survey results suggest that most consumers connect poor restroom management to a business’ lack of concern for its workforce. Why do you think they make this connection?

JD: We’ve looked at the business impacts of dirty unkempt restrooms in relation to both customers, as well as to workers. Both categories of restroom users emphatically tell us their perception of a particular business is influenced by the condition of its restrooms. For example, 91 percent say that if they associate a business with a particularly high-quality product or service, they would expect the restrooms to also provide a high-quality experience. Additionally, 88 percent believe the condition of workplace restrooms is one indicator of how a company values its workforce in general. Whether people use a public restroom at a business, or at their workplace, they have very high expectations for a comfortable user experience. People are telling us that if businesses don’t take responsibility for keeping its facility clean and usable, they lose respect for the establishment.  

SC: Please talk about the differences in restrooms found among facilities like restaurants, health care facilities, etc.  

JD: To demonstrate Americans’ disdain to germs in specific public places, restaurants and health care facilities continue to be the places at which respondents are most concerned about somebody not washing their hands. I think it’s interesting that restaurants foster even more anxiety over hand-washing and germs than a medical establishment. Other types of facilities mentioned — in order — are grocery stores, K-12 schools, airports, highway rest areas and offices. As for the perceived condition of restrooms at specific types of facilities, medical buildings, airports, restaurants and higher education facilities are the locations at which people have seen the most improvement. One the other end of the spectrum, convenience stores, gas stations and truck stops are the locations at which conditions have deteriorated most. 

SC: What do these findings say about human behavior and more specifically Americans’ needs for cleanliness? 

JD: Our findings tell us that people go out of their way to avoid contact with germs in public restrooms. Even to the extent of opting to not wash his/her own hands in a sink that appears too unclean. The condition of restrooms has a direct impact on how long people will stay in restrooms. When restrooms are messy, people hurry through or even skip hand-washing to get out quicker.  

We also found that a majority of Americans do not wash their hands long enough. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is recommended to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds in order to remove bacteria and other disease-causing microorganisms, but most Americans wash for only 10-15 seconds. Whether it’s due to lack of time – or restroom maintenance – it’s problematic that people aren’t washing their hands properly. CDC experts say good hand hygiene is the most important – and easiest – thing we can do to cut down the risk of getting sick and transferring germs to others. Drying hands – whether it is with clean paper towels or a hand dryer –is also key in getting rid of any leftover germs.

Businesses can encourage hand washing by using durable hand washing fixtures that keep a restroom looking attractive, and make sure the restrooms are well-designed, maintained and stocked at all times.  Make sure garbage is picked up, countertops are clean, floors are dry and use air fresheners to keep a good-smelling environment.

SC: Since you’ve been at Bradley Corp. and a part of the survey team, what consistencies and inconsistencies have you noticed in the results over the years?

JD: Being a guy, it concerns me to see that for eight years straight more women have reported washing their hands than men; 92 percent women to 86 percent men overall. It also disturbs me that almost 80 percent of respondents said they frequently or occasionally see others leave a public restroom without washing their hands, especially in the men’s room. Men also admit they are less likely to wash up than women. There were 20 percent of the men surveyed who disclosed they skip washing because they, “don’t feel the need.” Plus, men (73 percent) are more likely than women (57 percent) to claim they have on occasion rinsed with water but no soap. 

All of these numbers have stayed pretty consistent over the years.Another consistency we’ve seen is a steady word of warning to business owners about the crucial impact of restroom cleanliness on customer perception. A nasty restroom translates into bad impressions to customers, like poor management that doesn’t care. It makes customers think twice before going back.

SC: What kinds of products would you say are the best combatants for bathroom sanitary and hygiene issues?

JD: Seeing how people go out of their way to dodge germs in restrooms, providing touchless fixtures are one of the best ways to address the germ issue. In fact, hands-free fixtures are the number one request mentioned when we asked what the top item was that people would like to have in their workplace restroom. By reducing the touch points in restrooms, these fixtures help users avoid touching restroom surfaces, reduce the transmission of germs and bacteria from users’ hands, and improve overall hygiene as users leave the restroom area and enter other parts of the building. They can also cut down on vandalism attempts and are much easier to maintain. There are many great touchless options for faucets, soap dispensers, hand dryers and towel dispensers. 

Also, the materials that are used in restroom fixtures can make an impact on restroom cleanliness. Durable high-quality materials, like solid surface and natural quartz surface which Bradley manufactures, are beautiful surfaces that are now used for lavatories. Not only do they make for a naturally sleek and inviting look in restrooms, they are seamless, nonporous and easy to clean and maintain.  

SC: How will Bradley Corp. address some of the largest concerns highlighted in this survey moving forward?

JD: Certainly, we’ll continue to innovate our products with touchless fixtures — Americans’ No. 1 restroom request. We’ll continue to develop fixtures that are easy to wipe down and keep clean. We’ve also been designing hand-washing fixtures that keep water in the basin, as opposed to dripping on the floor or down walls as users reach for paper towels. A few years ago, we introduced the Advocate AV-Series Lavatory, an all-in-one, completely touchless hand-washing fixture that has all washing elements in one space — the basin, soap, water and hand dryer.  Next generation fixtures like this one solve the biggest cleanliness issues in commercial restrooms for users and facility managers alike. 

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