There are differing opinions regarding best scenarios for getting back to classes this month. Good hand hygiene is the most universally accepted measure for keeping students, staff and faculty safe when returning in-person to schools and campuses this fall. Many of our education clients have indicated that installation of hand sanitizer dispensers is a key component of their preparations. However, it is important to be aware of hand sanitizer guidelines when installing or placing stations in your buildings.
A Simple Solution, but Guidelines Can’t be Overlooked
Hand sanitizer is a preferred hygiene solution due to having less touch points than the traditional soap and sink hand washing. Its ease of use and ready availability may also encourage more frequent sanitizing by students. Hand sanitizer dispenses are simple to implement, with both wall installation and self-standing options available.
Did you know that hand sanitizers are addressed in the International Building Code and the International Fire Code for all school and campus buildings? According to the codes, hand sanitizer is not considered a hazardous material if dispensers are installed correctly and limited quantities of material are stored appropriately. However, incorrectly installed or stored supplies risk being flagged by code enforcement officials as hazardous material.
Successfully Navigating Hand Sanitizer Guidelines
Similar to most language in the building codes, the sections on hand sanitizer are technical in nature. There are many variables to consider when identifying the applicable guidelines for any given scenario. Classified as ‘alcohol-based hand rubs (ABHR’s)’, hand sanitizer is addressed in Section 5705.5 of the International Fire Code. The guidelines are meant to generally limit the extent to which the flammable liquid can become a fire hazard. The code provides guidance on items such as maximum capacity of a dispenser, installation in sprinklered versus non-sprinklered buildings, and proximity to switches and outlets or ignition sources. A separate section of guidelines is devoted to dispensers in corridors.
Some of the more surprising guidelines for school and campus buildings identified by our Code Specialist, Jim Mehaffey, are as follows:
- Minimum separation between dispensers is 48 inches.
- Bulk storage of sanitizer should be limited to under 5 gallons. This will avoid more complex storage and ventilation requirements for more than that amount.
- Where sanitizer is installed in a corridor or rooms open to the corridor, the minimum corridor width shall be 72 inches. Certain aerosol containers are not permitted in corridors. Plus there are limits to the quantities allowed in the corridor based on class of the liquid. Also, dispensers shall not project into the circulation by more than four inches.
- Dispensers installed in occupancies with carpeted floors shall only be allowed in smoke compartments or fire areas equipped throughout with an approved automatic sprinkler system. A fire area is a defined term in the Code. It is the floor area bounded by rated fire wall, fire barriers, exterior walls, or rated horizontal assemblies.
Too Much of a Good Thing Can Create Code Compliance Issues
Reviewing the Fire Code (available to view for free at www.ICCsafe.org) is a good first step before you take a ‘the more sanitizer, the better’ approach to installing dispensers in your buildings. ABHR’s can be classified as one of several classes of ignitable material. Containers sold to the public generally do not list this information. Therefore, it can be difficult to determine what section of the code applies to your sanitizer supply unless you are working with a reputable supplier. Hand sanitizer station guidelines differ depending on the classification and whether it is aerosolized.
Given the many variables that are subject to interpretation in hand sanitizer station guidelines, it is a good idea to work with a reputable supplier when ordering and installing your dispensers. You may also want to consult your local code enforcement officer or an architect when reviewing your plan.
Jim Mehaffey, AIA, is a Senior Project Manager at RLPS Architects and serves as in-house code coordinator. He draws on his project experience and technical focus to provide code analysis during design and construction document review. He is an NCARB Registered Architect and a member of the American Institute of Architects. Jim has served on the Manheim Township Pennsylvania, Board of Appeals since 2015 and is currently the Board Chairperson. He is also a board member for the Lancaster County Code Association (LanCode). Jim also writes a blog, The Yeoman Architect, which often focuses on building codes.
Is now the time to introduce isolation rooms in campus residence halls? A single room with an en suite bathroom for students who require heightened privacy has become a programming “must” for new and renovated residence halls. Often referred to as “medical rooms,” they provide a private room and bathroom for students with medical needs. This includes conditions like Crohn’s Disease, diabetes, or other immunodeficiency disorders. More recently these rooms have been available at some institutions for students who are transitioning or exploring their identity development.
Following the onset of COVID-19, our architectural team has been discussing if higher education institutions need to consider a similarly designed room for residence halls—an isolation room. This type of specialized space is commonly found in medical facility design, but isolation rooms are not typically included on college and university campuses. Could isolation rooms be one of the long-term changes we see?
“I never try to teach my students anything, I only try to create an environment in which they can learn.”
— Albert Einstein
Although collaborative learning seems to be a relatively recent innovation, this interactive approach to learning was actually the norm centuries ago. In Ancient India, life and learning coexisted much like the student and his teacher, or guru, with every aspect of daily life presenting opportunities for learning. Likewise, scholars of Confucius, Muhammad and other well-known ancient teachers gathered as a group for a variety of interactive learning experiences.
What is your relationship with your Building Code official? Is it non-existent, adversarial, or healthy? Ideally, you have a clear, open line of communication with your Building Code Official (also known as a BCO.) Cooperating and addressing issues openly with your BCO will provide many long term benefits for you and your facility.