Unclean School Toilets Exposed

Kiwi kids are being confronted with substandard school toilets.

A survey of 68 Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill primary school found some without soap, hot water or disposable towels or hand dryers.

One school had no soap, five had no toilet paper in any toilets, six had no way to dry hands – and 49 had "deficient hygiene facilities".

"Good hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways of preventing infectious diseases," Southern District Health Board medical officer Dr Marion Poore said. "But it's hard to expect people to wash their hands if the facilities aren't clean and tidy. In the southern climate, having only cold water can be a turn-off to hand washing."

The Otago University and health board research assessed availability, functionality and provision of hand basins, soap and hand dryers. The results were published in Oxford University's Journal of Public Health this month.

The Ministry of Education recommends schools provide warm water, liquid soap at every basin, and hand dryers, but researchers found significant discrepancies between school and workplace requirements.

Department of Labour guidelines recommended the provision of toilet paper and handwashing and drying facilities, and stipulated toilets be private, clean, ventilated and well-lit. Ministry of Education guidelines have no requirements for toilet paper or upgrading facilities.

"Children should have the same quality of facilities as adults," Poore said.

Last year a strategy was introduced that requires schools to upgrade toilets every 25 years, but almost 70 per cent of New Zealand schools are between 30 and 100 years old.

The study followed the rapid spread of the 2009 influenza pandemic between countries.

"We need to realise there has been little research in this area, so it is possible schools may not have been aware of potential problems," Poore said.

The survey found rich and poor schools were equally bad, and findings mirror anecdotal evidence from North Island schools. A south Auckland primary teacher told the Sunday Star-Times her school's facilities were "disgusting".

"Parents and kids complain. The soap dispensers are always empty, and the toilets regularly have no paper. They never have hand towels, the floor is always wet, and it doubles as a changing room," she said.

A New Plymouth secondary school student said he never used the school's facilities because they were so dirty. While some toilets had liquid soap, others had old and cracked soap bars, the water was always cold and there were no hand dryers.

One teacher said most schools in his north Auckland district provided cold water, liquid soap, sanitiser and hand dryers, but a Tauranga teacher said children often wasted supplies.

"There are always kids who think its funny to throw wet toilet paper on the roof or steal the soap and flush it down the loo. Not only does it make the toilets yucky, but it is also costs the school lots of money."

Ministry of Education policy manager Jerome Sheppard said the health and safety of students and staff was a priority, with boards responsible for ensuring schools were safe and hygienic.

"But we are aware some schools don't have adequate washing facilities and we have been working with the Ministry of Health to identify those," he said, to prioritise funding.

- Sunday Star Times


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