Touchscreen hygiene in the age of COVID-19

28th April 2020
Alex Lynn

With the Coronavirus crisis continuing in the UK and worldwide, many are rightfully looking to ways they can minimise the risk of the virus spreading in public places, such as supermarkets, train stations and petrol station forecourts. Many such locations now depend upon self-service touchscreens and anxiety over their use is on the rise.

An essential part of modern life

In today’s world, we increasingly rely on touchscreens for so much of our day-to-day lives, including many publicly installed touchscreens. Banks, mass transit, fast-food outlets and many more services rely on these for efficient operation, helping us to save time and providing us with an easy-to-use interface which is very adaptable in the ways it can be used.

One thing is clear: touchscreens have become an important and integrated part of our daily lives. With this in mind, how can we ensure that they are safe for use now and after the current pandemic has subsided?

The spread of bacteria and disease

The risk that touchscreens may aid the spread harmful microbes has been publicised in the media even prior to the current pandemic: a report several months ago showed that some self-service screens in fast-food outlets had faecal matter and E. coli present, whilst other studies have shown that way-finders in major airports harboured as much as ten times the number of colony-forming bacteria as are found in the average kitchen sink.

These reports shocked many, and especially in the light of the current situation, it is clear that we must be more careful with touchscreen hygiene moving forward. However, it is important to note that touchscreens, when used and maintained correctly, also offer significant benefits when it comes to containing microbes such as COVID-19, and helping to reduce the risk of spreading diseases.

Using touchscreens to reduce the spread of Coronavirus

With regular and thorough cleaning, public touchscreens can actually help minimise the spread of bacteria and viruses significantly. With a key element of the current plan to slow the spread of coronavirus being social distancing, touchscreens can eliminate or greatly reduce the need for face-to-face interaction between business employees and their customers and help everybody maintain the recommended guideline of two metres distance between people.

When combined with regular cleaning following government and health agency guidelines, this can prove a much safer alternative to normal customer interaction for many sectors, such as retail and banking.

In addition to their social distancing advantages, touchscreens are generally more easily cleaned than traditional mechanical buttons, such as an ATM pin-pad or POS terminal and keyboards. The operation of mechanical buttons makes them harder to clean as opposed to the featureless, flat surface of a touchscreen. This means, cleaned correctly, touchscreens offer fewer ‘nooks and crannies’ where bacteria and viruses can lurk.

Hygiene ‘best practice’

Even with these advantages, the media reports noted earlier make it clear that there must be improvements made to how touchscreens are maintained if we are to ensure they represent a safe alternative to traditional mechanical interfaces and face-to-face customer interaction.

The company has also noted that several other touchscreen manufacturers are providing similar recommendations.

In addition to businesses that deploy touchscreens implementing a more rigorous cleaning policy, designers of future self-service touchscreen hardware in a post-pandemic world, should consider the following ideas:

  1. In circumstances where fixed function buttons are needed, technologies and approaches such as our latest ZyBrid VK capability could be of benefit . Here, pre-programmed, non-moving ‘keys’ can be programmed into the touchscreen controller and combined with a custom printed touchscreen, together form an uninterrupted glass surface which facilitates easy cleaning.
  2. To ensure touchscreens are accessible by all users, including those visually impaired, some touchscreens can now be designed physical features and textures processed into the glass surface, such as dimples and grooves to assist with navigation around the screen to reach key zones. As the touchscreen glass remains a single continuous, unbroken surface it is therefore easier to clean than kiosk that still incorporates traditional mechanical buttons. Zytronic recently enhanced its capability to offer such solutions.
  3. Designing touchscreens so that they are fully flat and have no bezel or frame which could harbour microbes and can be easily cleaned, will help reduce the risk of bacteria and viruses on the screen.
  4. Touchscreens capable of responding to the touch of a gloved finger or stylus, such as some projected capacitive touch technologies will enable safer interaction, even if the screen has not been properly cleaned.
  5. Specialist coatings and glasses are increasingly available which when used in a touchscreen, will inhibit or kill bacteria over time. These can certainly help improve hygiene; however, they do not act instantly, meaning another user following shortly after may still be exposed to the bacteria on the screen. Furthermore, and do not have any effect on viruses such as COVID-19.

Planning for a safer future

The Coronavirus pandemic has shown us the importance of social distancing and proper hygienic practices, especially in public locations, in halting the spread of highly contagious diseases. Designed and maintained appropriately, self-service touchscreens can help such this effort.

Businesses deploying or designing such systems should take this time to re-evaluate current practices to ensure we are all doing the utmost to make these devices safe for everyone to use, both now and in the future.

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