Out of Touch

May 19, 2020

People thought about keeping their hands clean long before the COVID-19 coronavirus became part of our vocabulary. Waste receptacles for both home and health office settings have been available for years which can be operated with a foot pedal to lift the lid. Waste can be disposed without a hand coming in contact with the receptacle.

Touching door lock hardware has never been considered a problem. Expectations have always been that hands were necessary to touch and operate the hardware. Whether it is simply pulling handles on passage doors or twisting door lock knobs and levers, hand operation of some sort is required and built into every lock on the market. ADA laws did not change anything. Handicapped persons are still expected to operate door pulls and lever handles by touching the hardware in some fashion.

Electronic hardware did not change the operating landscape to any great extent. Two of the most popular ways to electronically unlock an access control system are by using a keypad or more recently by using a fingerprint reader. Even after the door is unlocked, a user is then required in most cases to physically pull the door open. Electronic access control has simplified the unlocking process while continuing the necessity in most cases to touch hardware for admittance.

In the space of the last three months COVID-19 virus has spread across the globe. Until a vaccine is available, a primary solution is in keeping hands clean and avoiding hand contact with any unknowns. Door hardware has suddenly become a culprit. Inventors are scrambling to develop any apparatus which can operate door handles and locks without requiring hand touching. Early products are all in the range of non-mechanical hooks. Opening door with these products requires some type of dexterity using an elbow or foot to grab and pull a door open.

Solutions for a virus vaccine may be months or years away. Let us hope that it will not take that long for hardware manufacturers to develop a new strain of locksets. I can envision a foot-operated pedal mounted on the door jamb which releases the door latch. A spring hinge equipped with a reverse action would then automatically open the door a few inches and an elbow could be used for final egress. Manufacturers, put your thinking caps on.