Appropriate hand washing facilities in schools are key to preventing spread of infectious diseases via person-to-person contact (Goldmann, 2000; Department for Education and Skills, 2006). The importance of this measure comes from meta-analysis studies that have found various hand hygiene interventions in schools have prevented levels of gastrointestinal infection and respiratory illnesses (Aiello et al., 2000).
One study has shown that structural factors, such as accessible, high quality facilities with effective hand- drying options, influence how likely it is that hand washing becomes routine (Bartlett, 2003; Lundblad and Helstrom, 2005). With this in mind, we need to look at ways we can make hand washing more appealing to young children in schools. One way of doing this is to provide appropriate hand drying facilities (Barnes and Maddocks, 2002) , which then begs the question: which is best?
One argument often made against use of hand dryers is that they are too noisy and even could damage peoples hearing with prolonged exposure to noises over 85 dBA (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1998). When we consider that hand dryers such as the Dyson Airblade and Airblade V models, and some Xlerator units when tested in public washrooms both exceed 100 dBA, this fact really is quite alarming (Keegan, 2019). In fact, Dyson on their own website state that their Airblade V model runs at 79 dB, whereas every 'real-life' test shows it to run at 105 dB or above. This is not surprising given that previous research has also shown hand dryers are much louder in real-life than inside testing laboratories (Berkowitz, 2015). Although a seemingly insignificant difference, when we consider that noise is the most common cause of loss of hearing, this difference that tips Dyson hand dryers over the threshold of 'safe' noise (The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Development Program: 2020). Currently, there is no published research on product marketers testing their hand dryers in the context of actual toilet acoustics (Drever, 2013) and the current testing method is just not sufficient in providing consumers with a truly informed choice. Currently there is no standardised sound testing method that is applied across all hand dryer manufacturers. Perhaps this needs to change?
There is however a standard 'acoustic design' of schools that determines the upper limit of acceptable sound. Here, 50 dB for a new build or 55 dB for refurbished buildings is deemed the upper limit for the indoor ambient noise level in school toilets (BB93: acoustic design of schools - performance standards, 2020).
Given this level of noise from a standard hand dryer certainly isn't acceptable for the average adult, let alone children, what's the alternative choice for schools?
An obvious alternative here is paper towels, however when we take into account the environmental and economic cost, they just don't compare. Paper towels carry a greater carbon foot print than the vast majority of hand dryers, as well as costing op to 900% more (Amin, Tai and Yue, 2020; Chatelain and Reeves, 2017; Cai, Lee and Cheung, 2009).
This is where newer 'quiet hand dryers' with their sound softening technology come into play. Quiet hand dryers operate at around 65 dB, with particular brands such as TOTO producing as little as 65 dB of noise (USD533305S1 - Hand dryer - Google Patents, 2020) or the new Elerillo at 67 dB from Handy Dryers. These are the quietest hand dryers in the world, but don't compromise on efficiency. Consuming less than 0.5kW when in use these hand dryers excels environmentally and most importantly acoustically.
GOV.UK. 2020. BB93: Acoustic Design Of Schools - Performance Standards. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bb93-acoustic-design-of-schools-performance-standards [Accessed 3 July 2020].
Drever, John L. 2013. 'Sanitary Soundscapes: the noise effects from ultra-rapid “ecological” hand dryers on vulnerable subgroups in publicly accessible toilets'. In: AIA-DAGA 2013, the joint Conference on Acoustics, European Acoustics Association Euroregio, 39th annual congress of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Akustik and the 40th annual congress of the Associazione Italiana di Acustica. Marano, Italy.
DfES Building Bulletin 93 (BB 93): Acoustic Design of Schools, 2003.
Chatelain, L. and Reeves, M., 2017. Innovative Solutions for Reducing Waste at Skidmore College.
Amin, T., Tai, K. and Yue, D., 2020. An Investigation Into The Sustainability Of Paper Towels Vs. The Dyson Airblade. [online] Open.library.ubc.ca. Available at: https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/undergraduateresearch/18861/items/1.0108219 [Accessed 3 July 2020].
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Excel Dryer, Inc. Xlerator hand dryer noise levels. Undated; Uploaded 2016 December. East Longmeadow, MA. . Accessed June 8th, 2020.
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Keegan, N., 2019. Children who say hand dryers 'hurt my ears' are correct: A real-world study examining the loudness of automated hand dryers in public places. Paediatrics & Child Health, 25(4), pp.216-221.
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Barnes PM, Maddocks A. Standards in school toilets—a questionnaire survey, J Public Health Med, 2002, vol. 242 (pg. 85-7)
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Aiello AE, Coulborn RM, Perez V, Larson EL. Effect of hand hygiene on infectious disease risk in the community setting: a meta-analysis, Am J Public Health, 2008, vol. 98 (pg. 1372-81) Goldmann DA.Transmission of viral respiratory infections in the home, Pediatr Infect Dis J, 2000, vol. 19 (pg. S97-102)
Department for Education and Skills, Planning for a human influenza pandemic. Guidance to schools and children's services, 2006, London Department for Education and Skills. Available at: https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/STERL-0706-WEB.pdf. Accessed: 25th June 2020.