As the coronavirus pandemic continues, there is understandably a huge concern about spreading the virus through shared public areas and items, from petrol pumps to ATM keypads to touchscreens.
Touchscreens are increasingly becoming a huge part of our daily lives in the modern age, with many public services such as banks and public transport using them as a key part of their operations. The advantages of touchscreens in public spaces are clear: They help us save time by performing tasks more efficiently and are highly flexible in their application. With touchscreens being such an important part of our lives, the question becomes: How can we ensure touchscreens are safe for use during this time and moving forward into the future?
Our changing perspective
Even before the current coronavirus pandemic, there had been growing concern over the hygiene of public touchscreens. A report by Metro some months before the pandemic, which gained widespread coverage, showed that touchscreens used on some self-service kiosks in fast-food restaurants tested positive for fecal matter and E. coli bacteria. This report rightfully shocked many and brought into question the hygiene of publicly used touchscreens.
Another report of public surfaces in three major US airports showed that the average self-check-in screen contained 253,857 colony-forming units, more than 10 times the number found on the average household kitchen sink according to data from an NSF International Household Germ Study.
With the current coronavirus situation, it is becoming clearer than ever that more must be done to ensure the use of touchscreens does not cause the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses.
How touchscreens can create a smarter future for hygiene
Whilst these reports would suggest that public touchscreens are furthering the spread of bacteria and infection, there are also many positive aspects of touchscreens that can vastly reduce the spread of bacteria and viruses.
For a start, using a touchscreen can eliminate the need for face-to-face interaction with customers, helping maintain proper social distancing for the containment of COVI-19 and other threats to public health.
Touchscreens are also much more easily cleanable than physical buttons because they provide a smooth and continuous surface. The nooks and crannies created by physical buttons, on ATM keypads for example, can harbor harmful bacteria and infection for long periods because they are difficult to clean thoroughly. On the other hand, touchscreens are simple and easy to clean properly; with regular cleaning, touchscreens can provide a much more hygienic alternative to conventional input methods on publicly used machines.
What can be done to make touchscreens safe for use?
Despite the advantages touchscreens offer, it is clear that changes must be made to the way we approach public touchscreen usage in order to provide the safest possible solution.
There are several key steps we recommend that can be taken to promote safety and hygiene with public touchscreens:.
- Installing flush edge-to-edge interfaces will make cleaning and disinfection far easier, as bacteria are often harbored in the nooks and gaps of public machines and touchscreens.
- Regular cleaning and disinfection of publicly used touchscreens is essential to maintain proper hygiene.
- Many touchscreen technologies, such as projected capacitive touch, can respond to the touch of a gloved hand or stylus. This means users can safely interact with touchscreens whilst minimizing the chance of catching a virus or infection or spreading it themselves.
- Specialist coatings for touchscreens are now available, and they can slow the spread of bacteria or even kill bacteria. Whilst these do address general hygiene concerns over touchscreens, these will not have any effect on COVID-19.
- In situations where fixed function keys are necessary, solutions can be implemented in which the keys are part of a single, uninterrupted glass surface, and those allow for easy cleaning.
- Where tactility is needed, for those with severe impairments to their vision for example, touchscreens are now available that implement machined features such as dimples, grooves and dials into the display. With these options, the glass remains unbroken and proves superior to moving buttons in terms of cleaning ease.
This recent pandemic has highlighted the importance of good hygiene practice as well as the strict implementation of health and safety procedure in our everyday lives. We currently have the opportunity to begin taking measures that can prevent or greatly lessen the impact of any such future pandemic, with a key consideration being the public spaces we use on a day-to-day basis. Touchscreens, when smartly implemented and with regular cleaning, can be a great asset to helping maintain social distancing and can be a more hygienic alternative to traditional buttons. Now is the time to reflect on our current safety measures and begin planning the implementation of improved hygiene and safety protocol in areas used by the public to help prevent a situation like this one from happening again.