Germs were always a concern for Camarillo resident John Buck.
Whether grabbing breakfast at a restaurant, visiting the doctor's office or getting a haircut at a local salon, Buck was consumed by the amount of microscopic germs that could be found in one of the most used areas in a public place -- the doorknob.
"I come into places and I look at the door and immediately think germs," Buck said. "I see people coming in and out, grabbing the door, and sometimes when they are sick. I thought to myself, 'That must be the biggest swap meet for germs.' "
That concern, however, became a business venture for the former nuclear engineer and entrepreneur. Buck, 73, recently launched Healthy Fingers LLC, which specializes in the production of a hands-free doorknob -- pivoting arm bars and pads that attach to any conventional door.
Studies have shown cold or flu viruses can linger on surfaces and other heavily used objects such as doorknobs depending on the temperature, humidity and type of surface. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human influenza viruses generally can survive on surfaces from two to eight hours.
Working in the garage at his Camarillo home, Buck developed a two-piece component with a movable handle that requires less contact than a conventional doorknob. The pull handle attaches to the outside of the door and includes a smooth hook. Inside its rectangular base are magnets that allow the hook to swivel as the user pulls the handle with a wrist or arm.
A smooth square push bar attaches to the interior side of the door and also can be used hands-free. Both pieces are made of cast aluminum.
After three years of various tests, Buck came up with the final design and found a machine shop in the San Fernando Valley to manufacture it.
The Healthy Fingers arm bar and pad were first tested for daily use at the Boskovich Farms food packaging and processing facility in Oxnard. For the past two years, about 280 employees have been using the equipment in their bathrooms and lunch room, said Roxy Ostrem, food safety compliance manager.
In a sterilized facility like the Boskovich plant, cleanliness is a top priority, Ostrem said.
"Personally, I would recommend it," Ostrem said. "Although we don't have a real idea if it has helped prevent any passing of germs, just knowing everyone is using it helps. Our crews are big on hand washing multiple times during the day anyway, but this gives us extra security. It's just a really nice apparatus."
Buck then approached a local hair salon to test Healthy Fingers. Customers at Willen Hair Design on Daily Drive in Camarillo have taken quickly to it, said receptionist Bonnie Ruderman.
A bright yellow sign taped to one of the glass doors explains to customers how to use the handles. With more than 20 stylists and dozens of customers coming in and out of the salon, the handles have been getting a lot of use.
"It's been here for about six months and a lot of people love it," Ruderman said. "People are just so used to doing things the old way, so we put a sign to make sure they see how easy it is to use.
"I really do think it's a great invention and should be in other places, like theaters and restaurants."
The Healthy Fingers system is not Buck's first invention. Before establishing his company, Buck was president and CEO of MicroEngineering Inc., a Chatsworth-based company that manufactures sewer equipment. The line of products includes leak detectors, pipe locaters and a self-leveling video camera used to inspect pipes, which Buck developed.
From 1980 to 1993, Buck was president and a partner of Acoustic Emission Leak Locators Corp., a Canoga Park company that sold heavy equipment to chemical manufacturing plants and other industries.
Before that, Buck spent 17 years as a nuclear engineer in the Atomics International Division of North American Aviation. He designed nuclear radiation experiments using special computer codes. The company joined with Rockwell International in 1967 and is now part of Boeing.
Buck also developed equipment for North American Aviation that detected oil leaks through high frequency acoustic sounds before he decided to start his own company.
Buck said he always enjoyed experimenting and the challenge of solving problems.
"Growing up, I played golf and football, but I was always the kid putting together a radio or something else," Buck said. "I always followed my nose and would think, 'Well, that seems interesting,' and I would do it. I'm always curious to find out how things work."
Buck now is looking for investors to take his door handle to mass production. He carries the prototypes with him in a hefty suitcase and talks about his dream to see his invention on every door.
"I just also want to do something for people," he said. "If it will help stop germs from spreading ... that is a goal." ___