Monday, August 18, 2008

The Tyranny of the Hygiene-Challenged

I have yet to read the book Nudge, which popularized the phrase libertarian paternalism, but I've been following the Nudge blog for a couple weeks and it's consistently interesting. This post on bathroom flies (which provide a target for urinal users, thereby reducing "spillage") caught my attention:

With so many sightings of flies in urinals around the world, some readers have wondered about the urinal entrepreneurs enabling this choice architecture. Meet Doug Kempel, engineer and owner of Urinal Fly, aka. the “Fly Guy,” who sells flies, trees, and rifle-scoped targets for the benefit of men and janitors everywhere. (Price: Starting at 4 flies for $4.99 up to 100 for $59.99.)

This reminded me of the recurring (yet admittedly unoriginal) idea I have to make all public bathroom doors open outward from the inside, without the use of handle. This would allow those of us who wash our hands at the end of each visit to the "restroom" to not be at the mercy of the least-clean hand to have touched the bathroom door handle. Not only does this negate the entire point of washing ones hands in the first place, it also shreds the veil of comfort that the "employees must wash hands before returning to work" sign provides.

But besides satiating the paranoid concerns of germophobes, I think the universal implementation of handle-less outward opening doors (HOODs?) might actually reduce the spread of germs. Maybe this would even result in fewer doctors visits, fewer prescriptions, and fewer sick other words, definite real-world benefits.

Some would probably suggest that such a policy should be adopted into municipal building codes, and given the disconnect between the cost-bearer (the owner of the facility with the bathroom) and the beneficiary (the general public), maybe that would be the best way to achieve mass adoption (despite compliance costs). However, maybe a more voluntary system, such as a website that brands a given facility as "good" or "bad" based solely on how its bathroom doors operate, would be able to encourage facility owners to replace bad doors with good doors (HOODs) or at least use HOODs for new construction.

In any case, I yearn for the day when I can use any public restroom and leave with my hands clean. Only then will we truly be free from the tyranny of the hygiene-challenged.

Image from here.

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