Sunday, May 6, 2012

Why not mitigate the transmission of germs by improving public bathroom design?

Common Sense Restroom Design...
How many public restrooms have you used over the last few years where the restroom’s handle (to leave) is on the inside of the exit door? Restaurants display the sign employees have to wash their hands after use but what about those customers who use the same facility but don’t follow the same guidelines? In other words, even if every employee religiously follows this guideline, you could find some clients who won’t heed the restaurant’s advice and will use the handle without good hygiene. It’s potentially a lose-lose for those who regularly exercise good hygiene.

Sometimes, in some public restrooms with inside door handles, management/maintenance has moved the trash container closer to the exit, thereby minimizing the amount of germs transmitted. The logic is many users will use their paper towel as an anti-germ protective layer as they open the door. Of course, this approach only works if paper towels are available. Another limitation involves communicating this approach to all users – will those unaware of using wet paper towels realize this tip merely by seeing the trash can near the exit?

It is safe to say I have never been accused of being a germaphobe or having a case of mysophobia although some friends will tell me “I’m extremely cautious about mitigating my germ exposure.” I understand some people say it’s beneficial to expose one’s system to a certain amount of germs to help one’s immune system although I will not go out of my way to do so. Mind you, I’m not fearful of germs, although if they can be avoided, especially in public places and restrooms, I’ll be in queue.

In a perfect world, most restrooms could be designed where handles are not needed to exit the restroom. In addition, even if handles are needed, installing a disabled door opener for restroom doors is a good start. Of course, you’ll still have those who don’t exercise good hygiene who activate these doors through touch so this approach is not foolproof but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. In many restrooms with the disabled door feature, it’s not too difficult to activate the door using your hip, knee, elbow or knuckle. It’s quite easy if you try.

When you see new buildings designed with the inside handle, one wonders if this is a village or county ordinance? If so, could this be reconsidered? If not, why are these facilities still engineered in this manner?

In some airports and educational institutions, restrooms are designed without a door – a step in the right direction. Restrooms at Costco are designed this way too. I think of this design as a mini-maze – it provides privacy and efficiency and eliminates that crucial germ transmission. Will other public facilities follow suit?

During some unscientific review during the last 6 months of 2011, I reviewed about 8 restrooms in mostly new facilities in Lake County, Illinois. All but one restroom were designed with inside handles. Again, if every user washes their hands thoroughly, we have no issues. If even 10% of men are non-hand washers, we have a problem with those who exercise good hygiene potentially affected by those who don’t.

At Scoozi in Chicago on 02/04/12, in the restroom, I see a sign on the bottom of the bathroom mirror say, "Feel free to use a hand towel to open the door."

BTW, it would not hurt to include anti-bacteria lotion dispensers outside restrooms for added protection.

Some Examples with internal restroom handles:
Super Target in Vernon Hills, IL
New Library in Libertyville, IL
Barnes and Noble in Libertyville, IL
Barnes and Noble in Lincolnshire, IL
Udon Noodle place in Lincolnshire, IL
Panera in Gurnee, IL
College of Lake County, Grayslake, IL
Several Office and Educational Buildings, Lake County, IL

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