Public toilet experts gather in Belfast

Experts from four continents will this week gather in Belfast for the World Toilet Summit to debate issues ranging from the future of public lavatories to anti-social behaviour in washrooms.

But although the event may generate a few sniggers, the Northern Ireland Toilet Association has warned the conference agenda covers major public health issues.

NITA director Raymond Martin said: “I don’t think nuclear war will get us but I think germs will.

“We are not being smart about germs and about sanitation. Germs can multiply and mutate so fast and yet the standard of most of these ‘away from home’ toilets is pretty poor.”

Presentations during the conference include “Changing Washroom Behaviour”, “Public Toilet Excellence – The Singapore Model” and “Managing Out Crime in Public Toilets”.

A speaker from Indonesia will describe how a toilet relief programme was introduced in the wake of the tsunami disaster, while the latest technological innovations will also be showcased.

The World Toilet Organisation event, the first to be held in the west, is expected to attract more than 350 delegates from the US, Europe, Australia and the Far East.

As well as basic cleanliness, Mr Martin identified a lack of hot water, soap and suitable drying facilities as common failings in public and workplace lavatories.

During the two-day summit at the Waterfront delegates will also be asked for their contributions to the Belfast Protocol, a policy document which will be presented to governments across the world.

Mr Martin said: “Whether shopping, dining or enjoying a family day out, we all expect adequate public toilets maintained to a high standard in terms of cleanliness and hygiene.

“The summit enables those of us involved in shaping government policy here concerning toilet provision, to share and build upon the experiences of our international counterparts and to formulate a policy agenda to improve and carry forward ‘away from home’ toilet provision in Northern Ireland and the UK.”

Mr Martin said more management and supervision was needed in public toilets to crackdown on anti-social behaviour, such as graffiti, drug taking and sexual activity.

He also said it was vital businesses adequately maintained staff toilets and looked after their customers needs. One case recently brought to his attention involved a motability car showroom in Belfast which did not have a disabled toilet.

The NITA director said one of the major problems in the UK was caused by the failure of pub and nightclub bosses to provide a sufficient number of toilets for their clientele, resulting in overcrowding at peak times.

On the impact of the shortfall, Mr Martin said: “The biggest epidemic sweeping the country at the moment is street urination.”

In recognition of this, Belfast City Council will tomorrow unveil a new state-of-the-art public toilet at the heart of the main nightlife district.

The stainless steel Urilift has been installed underneath the giant CityTV screen in Shaftesbury Square.

During the day the urinal fits in a 1.3 metre deep hole beneath the pavement. But at night it rises hydraulically to become a visible unit capable of being used by up to four men at a time.

Innovations such as cleaning blocks and environmentally friendly flushing mechanisms will be previewed at a washroom trade event at St George’s Market, to coincide with the conference.

The summit, which starts on Tuesday, will also see the launch of the Bog Standard campaign for better school toilets in Northern Ireland and the the awards ceremony for the 2005 Loo of the Year.

The World Toilet Organisation was the brainchild of Singapore businessman Jack Sim. First held in 2001 in Mr Sim’s home city it has previously been staged in Beijing and Taiwan and will next year visit Moscow.

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