Opening the door to better hygiene

In healthcare environments, infection control is of course a critical concern. Tim Checketts of dormakaba discusses the door and access control solutions that can help to minimise the spread of germs and bacteria

The design of healthcare buildings must balance a wide variety of considerations: Reliable round the clock security must be maintained for the safety of staff, patients and visitors, while movement into and through the building must be as easy as possible for all users.

In addition to this, the nature of the environment means that hygiene and infection control must be key priorities. Taking a holistic approach to the design of door and access systems and selecting the correct solutions can ensure that all these objectives are met.

Door controls
One of the most effective ways of improving hygiene through reduced contact with surfaces is by specifying automatic doors wherever feasible. There are a range of solutions available to suit different requirements and areas of the building. Starting at the entrances, there are automatic revolving, sliding and single and double leaf swing door options. Moving inside the building, many of the internal doors can easily be made to operate automatically by utilising automatic swing door operators linked to sensors in place of standard door closers.

Additionally, for refurbishment projects, manually operated doors can be upgraded simply and cost effectively through the same replacement of the door closers. Also, depending on the system and manufacturer, it may also be possible to upgrade manual or ‘servomatic’ revolving doors to fully automatic operation by replacing the control module.

Alternatively, in some situations, greater user control over door opening may be required. For example, on doors in high traffic areas the use of motion detectors may cause unnecessary opening of the door as people pass by. Here, button operated doors are a common solution to ensuring ease of access for all users of the building, while preventing unintentional activation.

However, from an infection control perspective, these are not always ideal as the surface of the button or plate needs to be cleaned regularly to prevent the spread of germs. Instead, contact free sensors can be utilised that use microwave detection for activation. These controls allow doors to be opened by the simple motion of a hand in front of the sensor, with no contact required.

Despite the advantages of automatic doors, there will be places within a building where it is not possible or even desirable to adopt this method. Here, manually operated doors can be made more hygienic by specifying door hardware with anti-microbial properties. Products that feature a silver-ion based anti-microbial finish will inhibit the growth of bacteria by disrupting the key cell functions. Although the hardware will still need to be cleaned regularly, as with any surface in the building, this finish will help limit the spread of potentially harmful bacteria.

Furthermore it is also worth considering measures to reduce interaction with doors as they move through the building. The fire regulations and the building’s compartmentation strategy may dictate the need for fire doors in certain locations, however there are solutions that allow compliance to be achieved in a way that minimises physical interaction and improves ease of movement.

Electro-magnetic hold-open or free-swing door solutions can be specified in place of standard fire door closers. These allow doors to remain open during regular use but will automatically close the door upon activation of a fire alarm or in the event of a power failure.

This will ensure the doors will still function as designed in the event of a fire, to minimise the spread of flames and smoke. The added advantage of these solutions for hospital buildings is that it aids the free movement of beds and wheelchairs, especially through corridors.

Access control
In healthcare environments, securing certain areas of the building is essential to ensure the safety of staff and patients and prevent unauthorised access to sensitive areas.

In certain facilities, such as those that offer mental health or dementia care, a level of access control may have to be maintained for the entire building.

Traditional cylinder locks or coded keypads are commonly used as simple methods of preventing unauthorised access. However, the physical contact required to use these locks can allow germs to spread if not maintained properly.

To improve hygiene, digital equivalents that support contactless access can be specified instead of conventional locks, and keypads can be exchanged for card readers. There are a range of options to suit all types of doors and locks as well as a variety of radio-frequency identification (RFID) access media. There are also products that feature Bluetooth low energy (BLE) capabilities to enable smartphones to function as access media devices.

These digital systems have additional advantages in terms of convenience and control for the client and facility. The individual readers can often be integrated into a single system to provide greater control of access rights, which can often be managed remotely. It also offers the ability to maintain a detailed log of access to key areas. Additionally, these access controls can be easily integrated with automatic door systems to minimise the physical contact required.

Finally, for facilities that operate a time and attendance (T&A) system for logging and managing the presence of staff, traditional touch-operated interfaces can be replaced with one that offers a higher level of hygiene. The same RFID and BLE contact free technologies are also available for this application to further minimise the risk of germs and bacteria spreading.

In specifying door and access control solutions for healthcare buildings, the access and security considerations must also be balanced with the need to make the environment as hygienic as possible. By choosing the correct, high quality systems, architects can ensure that these aims are achieved. Engaging with a specialist supplier that can provide a single point of contact to identify, evaluate and provide the most appropriate entrance systems and access solutions will help ensure the best possible advice and guidance is received.

Tim Checketts is head of specification at dormakaba