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 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?

Even before the current Coronavirus pandemic, there has 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 faecal 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 unit, 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.

Whilst these reports would suggest that public touchscreens are furthering the spread of bacteria and infection, there are also many positive aspects of touchscreens which 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 and helping contain Coronavirus and other infections.

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, for example on ATM keypads, can harbour 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.

Despite the advantages touchscreens offer, it is clear that changes must be made to the way we approach public touch screen usage in order to provide the safest possible solution.

Zytronic outlines several key steps which can be taken to promote safety and hygiene in public touchscreens based on the problems currently found on public touchscreens.

  1. Installing flush edge-to-edge interfaces will make cleaning and disinfection far easier, as bacteria are often harboured in the nooks and gaps of public machines and touchscreens.
  2. Regular cleaning and disinfection of publicly used touchscreens is essential to maintain proper hygiene.
  3. 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 minimising the chance of catching a virus or infection or spreading it themselves.
  4. Specialist coatings for touchscreens are now available which 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.
  5. In situations where fixed function keys are necessary, solutions such as this ZyBrid VK can be implemented, where the keys are part of a single, uninterrupted glass surface which allows for easy cleaning.
  6. Where tactility is needed, for example for those with severe impairments to their vision, touchscreens are now available which 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 ease of cleaning.

This recent pandemic has highlighted the importance of good hygiene practice and strict implementation of health and safety procedure in our everyday lives. We currently have the opportunity to begin taking measures which 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 again.

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