Observation study of water outlet design from a cross-infection/user perspective: time for a radical re-think?
Background: Handwashing is a key barrier to cross-infection performed at a handwash station (HWS). Elbow-operated outlets, if used incorrectly (with hands), become highly touched objects, potentially providing a route for cross-infection. Aim: To study how elbow-operated outlets were used by staff in this hospital, whether the correct type of HWS had been installed in the various ward areas according to the Health Building Note (HBN) 00-10 Part C: Sanitary Assemblies (hands-free outlets in clinical, food preparation and laboratory areas), and factors impinging on design/setup which may affect compliance with correct use. Methods: Observation of outlet use was performed by mounting a video camera above four HWSs. Review of suitability of outlet was conducted by two of the authors by visiting ward areas and assessing compliance against HBN recommendations. Angle of elbow-operated lever setup was measured using a protractor and water temperature in relation to angle of movement of elbow lever was measured using a calibrated thermocouple. Findings: Ninety-two percent of staff used hands to turn on the outlet and 68% used hands to turn the outlet off, potentially re-contaminating their hands. More than 70% of users moved the lever ≤45°. Almost half of elbow levers were set up incorrectly, being flush or within 3.5 cm of the rear panel, making elbow operation extremely difficult. Selection of outlet type according to HBN was most incorrect in the intensive treatment unit but also occurred in the newly built parts of the hospital. Conclusions: Although handwashing is a key barrier to cross-infection, poor selection and incorrect use of outlet undermines its effectiveness. Design and incorrect instalment further compromise the intended means of operation of elbow levers. Of equal concern is that this risk mostly goes unrecognized. There is an opportunity to improve handwashing safety, but it requires engagement across a broad stratum from Government Departments of Health and manufacturers down to the user.