(photo: Paul Green)
19.11.2019, 15:10

Making Washrooms Truly Accessible

Health, Safety, Security & Environment, EMEA

As the UN officially marks World Toilet Day 2019, Jamie Woodhall, Technical and Innovation Manager at Initial Washroom Hygiene, asks if the United Kingdom is doing enough to ensure accessibility to washroom facilities.



Today, 19th November, is World Toilet Day - an official UN day focused on tackling the global sanitation crisis. Whilst in the UK, it may appear that adequate access to washroom facilities has been achieved, this is not always the case.


Washroom facilities for men and women differ; male’s washrooms often have less cubicles whilst women’s should have sanitary bins in each cubicle.  This means male washrooms offer a lack of private space and waste disposal units which can cause a problem for those suffering from incontinence.


Incontinence isn’t a dirty word 

Incontinence is an important issue, that lacks in awareness.  In the UK, an estimated 7 million people live with it and one in four UK men over the age of 40 is likely to experience some form of the condition in their lifetime.


There are many causes of incontinence. They range from health conditions such as increased pressure on the bladder from pregnancy or obesity, neurological conditions and connective tissue disorders, to environmental factors such as inaccessible or unsafe toilet facilities. The lack of waste disposal facilities in public toilets not only poses a hygiene risk, it perpetuates the taboo nature of the topic, forcing many to suffer in silence, as they manage the condition in difficult circumstances.


It may surprise you to learn that incontinence is a growing issue – adult incontinence products are the fastest-growing retail disposable hygiene category. Unfortunately, a lack of awareness of the issue is causing significant challenges. Not providing waste disposal units for incontinence products leaves sufferers with no choice but to either flush them down the toilet, which causes blockages and other environmental issues or being forced to take them home. As a result measures are beginning to be put in place in order to tackle the issue across the globe, for example in Germany, regulations have been introduced to ensure that at least one hygiene bin is available per male washroom.


Enabling sensitive disposal

Building and facilities managers should be aware of the needs of all those visiting their washroom. Everyone needs access to suitable washroom facilities at work or when visiting public places, but people with bladder and bowel problems need to use these facilities more frequently and more urgently. They’re also likely to need more specialised features in the washroom to cope with their condition. Providing more space in a cubicle to change a disposable product or empty a human-waste collection bag can make a big difference.


Waste disposal is also important. Whilst it may appear that supplying a bin in the main area of a washroom is sufficient, it is unlikely to be the users’ preferred option. To fully address the issue, facilities managers should aim to provide specific waste bins within individual cubicles, as is the case in women’s toilets for sanitary disposal. This will enable male incontinence sufferers to discretely and correctly dispose of any waste, without suffering the embarrassment of being seen by anyone during the process. To enhance washroom facilities further, some units contain a unique insert, which includes an anti-microbial solution and a pleasant citrus fragrance to avoid bad odours.


Employers should also try to ensure that all members of their team feel reassured that their current and potential health needs are being catered for. Toilets with insufficient waste disposable facilities may cause employees to feel stressed at work, affecting their wellbeing and productivity.

Avoiding blockages and remaining compliant

Failure to provide sufficient facilities means those with incontinence may feel they have no choice but to flush products down the toilet or take their waste home – something no one should be subject to. If flushing is the only option they are left with, this could potentially result in blockages and serious drainage problems within the facility. Resolving this type of problem can prove to be a very costly investment.  


Flushing of incontinence products also has a negative impact on the environment. According to the London Assembly, incontinence products contain an estimated 50% plastic.


The provision of waste disposal bins will ensure that your facilities stay compliant with the requirements of the 1990 Environmental Protection Act where waste must be stored in a way that prevents it from causing damage to the environment or from posing a risk to human health.


When washroom waste is regularly collected, treated and properly disposed of, businesses can rest-assured that a high level of hygiene and compliance is maintained.

Handwashing facilities

Providing enough handwashing facilities within the washroom is another important factor for employers and facilities managers. This ensures that those suffering with incontinence can wash their hands properly and hygienically, and can prevent the spread of bacteria and illnesses. Equipping washrooms with enough sinks, soap dispensers and hand drying options is key. To provide that extra level of hygiene and privacy for incontinence sufferers, it could also be worth installing handwashing facilities - like sanitiser - within the cubical itself.

Final thoughts

Although there is currently no legal requirement to support incontinence in public washrooms in most countries, increasing awareness of the issue is putting pressure on legislators to recognise the needs of this typically ‘invisible disability’. Hygiene facilities have often been neglected in men’s washrooms, but at Initial Washroom Hygiene, we want to be part of the solution, which is why we’re calling for sanitary bins to be seen as an essential facility in all washrooms, so no one suffers in silence.





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