Thursday 21 November 2013

New rules to improve public loo experience

More toilets for women, grab bars for elderly and diaper changing stations
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2013

YOUR visit to a public toilet here will be a more pleasant experience after June next year.

Female users can expect shorter queues as proportionately more toilets will be set aside for them. There will also be diaper changing stations for parents with young children.

This is because of new design guidelines from the National Environment Agency (NEA), unveiled on the inaugural World Toilet Day yesterday, to ensure that public toilets are cleaner, more convenient, and more inclusive to benefit women, the elderly and parents with young children.

The guidelines under the Code of Practice on Environmental Health were announced by Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu, who was speaking at the inaugural Wash (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Conference.

The ratio of female to male toilets will be increased from 1:1 to 5:3 in public areas with heavy usage, such as shopping malls and MRT stations.

The guidelines call for better hygiene, including placing amenities like soap and towel dispensers near wash basins.

They will be made mandatory from next June in all new public toilets and those in premises undergoing major renovation. The code was last revised in 2005.

"Good design is important because it helps us to improve the way that we use the toilet, and also how we would clean (it)," said Ms Fu on the sidelines of the conference.

Toilets will also be more inclusive, Ms Fu told reporters, with the installation of features like grab bars for the elderly.

Diaper changing stations - the lack of which has long been a bugbear of parents with young children - will also be installed in toilets at places like shopping malls and hawker centres.

Mrs Christine Tan, 35, who has a one-year-old son, welcomed the new guidelines. "It's about time. I worry about how and where I'm going to change my son when I'm out," she said.

The conference, organised by the Restroom Association of Singapore, also saw 20 individuals and organisations receiving the LOO (Let's Observe Ourselves) awards for their commitment to keeping toilets clean. A record 10 cleaners were honoured for their work. Alexandra Hospital's well-ventilated and odour-free Zoo Toilet won the "Happy Toilet of the Year" award.

But a clean toilet is not just a matter of good design, said Ms Fu. Urging toilet users to play their part, she said that the condition of public toilets demonstrates "the development and civic graciousness of the community".

Cleaner Hariani Kasau, 37, who received a Loo award for four years of excellent service, welcomed the new measures but said users must also be responsible.

Recalling fishing sanitary napkins out of clogged toilets, she said in Malay: "We have to look after our toilets together. If the people who use them don't take care, things won't get better."

This July, the United Nations endorsed Singapore's resolution to declare Nov 19 as World Toilet Day. The idea behind World Toilet Day was started by the World Toilet Organisation, a local non-governmental organisation.

A World Bank study, released ahead of World Toilet Day, showed that access to a better toilet will boost a child's cognitive skills and development.

The research showed that six-year-olds who had been exposed to India's sanitation programme, which promoted the use of inexpensive pit latrines, were more likely to recognise letters and simple numbers on learning tests than those who were not.

The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 2.5 billion people lack access to basic sanitation. Eighty per cent of them live in Asia.


THE National Environment Agency's Code of Practice on Environmental Health prescribes minimum design standards for public areas like food outlets. Some of the new guidelines for public toilets are:
- Cubicle partitions from the wall or ceiling to allow for easier cleaning of floors and to prevent the accumulation of grime
- Amenities like hand dryers and towel dispensers within convenient reach of wash basins to keep toilet floors dry
- Ratio of female to male toilets to be increased from 1:1 to 5:3 in places with high volumes of human traffic
- Wash basins outside the toilets of food establishments
- At least one urinal per male toilet should have a grab bar for elderly users
- Hand basins for easy reach by children
- Diaper changing stations in toilets at shopping malls, hawker centres, MRT stations and other buildings that families frequent.


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