Safe Reopening – Touchless Access and Control

Brought to you by Bill Moten
LEDG Smart Buildings Practice Leader

Isn’t it amazing how aware we are about our surroundings and what we touch? Who last touched that elevator button, and were they healthy? What about that door handle? Once you touch it, you quickly look for the nearest hand sanitizer dispenser. COVID-19 has created “surface phobia” described as the fear of knobs, handles, buttons, and other high-contact objects. The CDC has made it clear that COVID-19 spreads mainly from person-to-person. However, people can still get infected by touching a surface that is contaminated by an infected person.  With this fact, how long does the Coronavirus last on surfaces? Here is a list compiled from the CDC and FDA:

  • Five days: metal, glass, ceramics, paper
  • Four days: wood
  • 2-3 days: plastics, stainless steel
  • One day: cardboard
  • 2-8 hours: aluminum
  • Four hours: copper

Any surface in a high touch environment is suspect to being contaminated, including includes all buttons, knobs, handles, handrails, levers, and so on. Let’s consider an average day in the office and all the things that are touched; door handles/knobs, elevator buttons, copy machines, coffee maker, cabinets, faucets, etc. We can all agree that we touch a lot of things throughout the day, and we must be aware and safe about how we go about it.

There are some very inventive low-tech solutions out there to access and control devices. The elevator is getting the most focus and has several compelling low-tech solutions ranging from toothpicks to sanitizing wipes to use when pushing the call or floor buttons. My concern is when someone sneezes on the “sanitary” toothpick holder, then what do you do? Some buildings are hiring staff dedicated to opening doors, turning levers, and pushing buttons reminiscent of buildings with elevator operators and bathroom attendants. Another elevator touchless solution is to program it to stop on every floor. Reasonable for a 3-5 story building, but not a 40-story skyscraper. Before we even get to the other elevator, suppliers are selling foot and forearm grabs that attach to doors, so you don’t have to use your hands. For the other devices like coffee machines and copiers, having a box of sanitizing wipes nearby is the best and most cost-effective solution.

Some high-tech control solutions have been around for a while, like handsfree faucets, toilets, and doors. It gets a bit tricky when you are controlling access while making it handsfree. Companies like Openpath have very innovative solutions that use your smartphone for both access management and activation of doors and elevators. There are also high-tech solutions that are passive like anti-microbial surface coatings that developers and architects are starting to use for high touch areas. Copper is a natural anti-microbial surface, and according to the CDC and FDA, it will eliminate the Coronavirus in just four hours. Paint manufacturers are adding microbe-killing agents to paint and primer coatings that will essentially self-clean.

Applying data intelligence and analytics to touchless access and control is the final step. For example, collecting data on access information can provide occupancy levels of buildings and workspaces. Elevator data can provide usage and occupancy information to determine if people are adhering to social distancing regulations and when to disinfect the elevator car. The capability to document access and control history will facilitate record keeping for reporting, auditing, and proof of compliance.

Thanks to the combination of low-tech and high-tech touchless access and control solutions, building owners, facilities managers, businesses, and universities can ensure compliance with local regulations and institutional policies. Providing touchless access and control solutions give employees, visitors, students, and customers a feeling of confidence and protection, especially those of us with “surface phobia.”

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