December 05, 2012 | | Comments 4
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The migratory habits of restroom waste containers

Now I will be absolutely candid in telling you that there are some things that I pay attention to that are probably way beyond the pale when it comes to normalcy; I suspect that this is going to be one of those topics, but here goes.

In my travels, I observe a great many things and one of the things I follow most closely is the hand-washing habits of my fellow (male) travelers. One of my fondest wishes would be to have the power to surreptitiously identify those who do not wash their hands when completing their restroom activities–a silent but obvious j’accuse, if you will. And my conclusion is that way, way too many folks are not washing their hands enough, and in so doing (or not so doing), they are increasing the risk of infection to not only themselves, but the rest of us.

Now, I’ve ranted in the past about manually-activated faucets in combination with automatic hand dryers, and how the arrangement does not promote good hand hygiene (Yeah, I know you can use your elbow or some other appendage to turn off the faucet, but not all faucets are so easily turned off).

I want to have a paper towel to turn off the faucet, but even more importantly, I want a paper towel to be able to open the door– because I can’t trust that the people using the door before me washed their hands! As a corollary to that, I also like to have someplace to dispose of the paper towel once I’ve opened the door and I am very pleased to note that there is a marked improvement in the availability of waste containers right next to the door. As far as I’m concerned, it gives me hope (not a ton, but some) for humanity.

Now I know that there is a carbon footprint aspect to all this (and I try to be as green as I can be: as I write this, I’ve been lugging a trash bag full of recyclable plastic around New Mexico, hoping to find a recycling bin for plastic. I’m still looking.), but this may be one that we have to tolerate, at least for the time being. Viruses, etc. appear to be on the rise again, so I want to make sure that we all make it through this at least relatively unscathed. End of rant.

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Steve MacArthur About the Author: Steve MacArthur is a safety consultant with The Greeley Company in Danvers, Mass. He brings more than 30 years of healthcare management and consulting experience to his work with hospitals, physician offices, and ambulatory care facilities across the country. He is the author of HCPro's Hospital Safety Director's Handbook and is contributing editor for Briefings on Hospital Safety. Contact Steve at

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  1. I share your need of a paper towel to be able to open the door…..because I can’t trust that the people using the door before me washed their hands….so I use a paper towel to open the multiple doors on the way to my office after leaving the restroom….better safe than sick.

  2. A pet pieve of mine also Steve. We had alcohol sanitizers installed by the door going out of the rest room so that those not washing had at least one more chance to clean their hands. I also liked it in that I could squirt some sanitizer on my hands and then grab the door knob. At least knowing I was getting a little alcohol on the handle.

    Unfortunately our IC folks did not like that and they removed the sanitizer.

    My other pet pieve on this topic is restrooms designed with the sink to the back of the restroom where you have to take extra effort to go to it instead of having it on the way out.

  3. You correctly used the expression “beyond the pale, but we will also accept “beyond the pail” in this case…..

  4. I also prefer paper towels to air hand dryers for the reason you mentioned in your post. But also for another reason. Having a background in audio engineering, I have noticed that many hand dryers, especially the high-powered type that are meant to dry your hands quickly without necessarily utilizing heat, make an excessive amount of noise. When placed in a boxy, reverberant space like a large commercial restroom, I sometimes wonder if the noise levels generated by those machines are really safe. They certainly are annoying to me for this reason, but also because I cannot open the door with a paper towel when such a dryer is my only option. Thoughts?

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