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It's Not All About Hand Sanitizer

By Brianna Werner, Assoc. IIDA

As architects and interior designers, we’re accustomed to taking safety into account for the spaces we create. We adhere to local building codes and follow ADA guidelines to ensure that our final spaces are safe and easily accessible to everyone. We apply the principles and elements of design to craft healthy environments that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. However, at a time when use of the term “safety” is evolving to imply measures taken at a microbiological level, many professionals in the design field find themselves working under a new set of guidelines.

One of the many concerns to rise to the forefront of the public’s mind is the use and availability of hand sanitizer. Outside of the healthcare industry, hand sanitizer previously had a very limited presence in spaces the average person occupied daily. Now, it’s ubiquitous. As businesses continue to reopen, hand sanitizer stations have been placed throughout our world in an effort to encourage frequent sanitization. However, while these measures are intended to increase personal safety, they pose a risk of their own that must be taken into account. Like other products that contain alcohol, hand sanitizer is flammable and must be kept a safe distance from electrical outlets. Designers also need to ensure that these sanitizer stations are placed in such a way as not to impede exit aggress or handicap accessibility.

Another factor at risk of being overlooked is overall building health. Building closures may have disrupted regular maintenance routines and resulted in the general neglect of building hygiene. While it may not seem like a long time, a month of being unoccupied can have unforeseen effects on the health of a building. Unaddressed leaks or water spills can quickly become sources of mold growth, and stagnant water from unused plumbing systems can foster the growth of bacteria. Water lines need to be thoroughly flushed to clear out sources of standing water and ensure that the water supply is free from heavy metal contamination. While building maintenance isn’t typically the responsibility of designers and architects, its neglect can have a profound impact on the health and safety of our clients.

As we move forward in the wake of this world-changing pandemic, we will continue to face new and unprecedented challenges. The rules have changed, and we have to change with them. Methods that were previously tried and true may no longer work in this new reality. Concerns that were unthinkable six months ago are now part of our everyday lives. Change is never easy, but we can make it manageable. With the proper precautions and the right set of tools, we can continue to create spaces that are comfortable, functional, and safe.

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