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Wellness-Focused Design

For many individuals, simply entering a commercial building, like an office, a school building, a retail space, or especially a hospital or healthcare facility, may seem like a daunting task. Germs, bacteria and potential contaminants can be anywhere. While it's virtually impossible to eliminate every potential health risk factor within a building, it is possible to clean up your building's act and do your part to keep tenants and visitors healthy and safe.

What Are the Risks?
A recent Health.com article listed experts' top four picks for the worst germ hot spots at shopping centers as restroom sinks, dining tables, escalator handrails and ATM keypads, elements which are found in many commercial properties. As if worrying about germs on surfaces wasn't enough, indoor air quality has also become a major concern for buildings. According the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), inadequate ventilation, chemical contaminants from indoor and outdoor surfaces, and biological contaminants are contributors to an illness known as "Sick Building Syndrome" (SBS). Individuals who have SBS experience acute negative health effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. These factors can also contribute to "Building Related Illness," when symptoms of diagnosable illness are identified and can be directly attributed to airborne contaminants.

With all of these seemingly inescapable indoor health risks, the thought of protecting those who use commercial spaces can be overwhelming, especially during the height of cold and flu season. But you can take small steps to improve individuals' experiences and reduce the risk factors for illness.

Creating Healthy Surfaces
The use of antimicrobial products has skyrocketed over the past 15 years. From soaps, to cleaning solutions, to sanitizers... it's hard to remember the last time we used anything less than antibacterial. Maintaining a supply of antibacterial soap, as well as hand sanitizer for restrooms and common areas, is a simple, yet effective way to prevent the spread of germs. For optimal protection against bacteria, purchase dispensers that use a sealed refill pack, versus a bulk refillable soap compartment. Cleaning products labeled as antimicrobial are also effective in stopping the spread of bacteria. Not sure which one to choose? The EPA's Protection Antimicrobial Testing Program maintains up-to-date summary data for registered hospital disinfectant products that comply with strict testing standards. Many of the registered products, such as cleaning solutions and disinfectants, are also relevant for non-healthcare facilities.

Perhaps the most effective way to reduce the opportunity for germs and bacteria to spread on common surfaces is to simply reduce the number of surfaces with which building users come into contact. For example, trash receptacles should be free of lids, and restroom doors should push out, allowing an individual to open a door without using his or her hands. Better yet, restrooms with labyrinth-style openings ensure that guests don't have to come into contact with any hard surfaces on their way in or out of the facility.

Sensor-operated faucets, flush valves and hand dryers with hands-free operation are also extremely effective at keeping hands clean in the restroom. In recent years, many high-profile public use properties, from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, have installed high-performance, hands-free faucets and flush valves, providing a more hygienic solution for thousands of visitors each year.

Improving Indoor Air
According to the EPA, routine maintenance of HVAC systems, as well as increasing ventilation rates and air distribution, can help reduce indoor pollutant levels. Additionally, replacing water-stained ceiling tile and carpeting and ensuring proper ventilation, especially when using paints, adhesives, solvents and pesticides, can go a long way toward resolving an indoor air quality problem.

Much of the process of improving indoor air quality is about common sense. Limit exposure to harmful toxins by completing all building or remodeling projects during low-use periods, such as nights or weekends. ItÆs also important to allow time for air quality to improve before allowing individuals to return to the affected space.

Taking individual health one step further, many hospitality properties, such as the InterContinental Suites Hotel Cleveland, are now offering guests the option to stay in Allergy Friendly Rooms, which go through a rigorous treatment process to remove irritants and pollutants from the air and surfaces in a room. This type of technology is expanding into offices, schools and other public spaces, as a way to provide a more pure environment for those who may suffer from asthma, allergies or sensitivity to common irritants.

Changing Mindsets
When it comes to staying healthy indoors, those who use the building on a daily basis also bear a large portion of the responsibility. Remind tenants and visitors how to maintain a healthy environment by providing easy access to everyday elements that improve wellness, such as stairways, bike paths and water filtration systems. Implement smoking cessation programs throughout your entire property, to put building users' health into their own hands. Post reminders about small things that are often overlooked, such as thorough hand washing and drying, or limiting the use of air fresheners and other indoor air pollutants. Finally, consider implementing a wellness program for building employees that encourages healthy living through exercise, healthy eating and vaccinations, such as the annual flu shot, to increase individuals' health and strengthen their defense against illness.

Your space can be a healthier one when you address wellness concerns from the inside out.