Washing your hands is the best way to stop germs from spreading, regardless of any other hygiene-friendly practices completed in and around the office. Because germs aren’t visible to the naked eye, it’s easy to unwillingly transfer germs from our hands to others in our environment.
Whether you have young children or pets, handle food regularly or enjoy the great outdoors, germs are everywhere. And many of these germs can lead to infectious disease, which when passed around can cause chaos in an environment with lots of people, such as a school or the office.
The last thing you want is to cut production in your office simply because staff aren’t washing their hands.
How do you enforce hand hygiene?
Many companies and institutions recognise hand hygiene as being important. In hospitals, gel dispensers are often installed onto walls near doorways and entrances ,and some large corporations have even gone as far as to have special ‘hygiene handles’ fitted to their doors. But still, contamination and infection remain.
A recent study from Queen Mary, University of London, together with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, found that fecal bacteria was present on 26% of hands examined. The same report found that 11% of hands contained ‘gross contamination’, with levels not too dissimilar to the toilet bowl.
Another study by the Initial Washroom Hygiene (IWH) group showed that one in four admit to not washing their hands after using the toilet, and that same study suggested that 60% of employee illness originated from contaminated workplace equipment.
So how do you take the message of hand hygiene out of the hands of employees, and move from encouragement to enforcement?
This first step is to understand that regardless of whether you’re a multi-storey office building, a large office park or your business consists of multiple business locations, there are options available to strongly encourage hygiene practices. Employees need convenience, and this means regularly stocked paper towels, toilet paper, cleansers, cleaner dispensers, and other hygiene supplies.
The tools you supply are the key here. Liquid soap is better than bar soap, as it is less likely to be contaminated and easier to use. Paper towels or single-use cloth towels are better than hot air dryers. And alcohol-based preparations are preferable to traditional hand sanitisers of soap.
The next step is to use signage. Studies show that posters can improve hand hygiene compliance when branded with the right message. In particular, a message that causes shock or reaction using visually intriguing image or text.
The secret to clever signage is to find a happy medium between over-the-top offensive and boring. It also helps if there is a touch of shaming involved. Essentially, effective posters make the reader feel bad about not washing their hands and forces them to take part in the practice.
The third step is to offer practical guidance into how one should be washing their hands and when.
How and when to wash your hands
To wash your hands effectively, you must:
You should wash your hands thoroughly:
What happens without proper hand hygiene?
Many viruses and diseases infect people only when they enter the nose or mouth. People with diseases transmitted via the fecal-oral route can spread the disease to nearby objects or food when they don’t wash their hands after using the toilet. Airborne illnesses spread through droplets that land on objects and are then picked up with the hands. Once the hands touch the nose and mouth, a virus follows.
Common diseases transferred via the hand include:
Norovirus: Noroviruses cause gastrointestinal infections, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. They are quickly spread through large groups in closed quarters.
Respiratory: Respiratory illnesses are the result of sneezes and coughs, and are often referred to as the “common cold”. Chickenpox, meningitis and Group A and B streptococcal infections are also airborne illnesses.
Hepatitis A: Hepatitis A is often spread via food contaminated by food handlers with the disease who don’t thoroughly wash their hands. Digesting even a microscopic trace of contaminated fecal matter can lead to the disease.
How to tell if your business is hand hygiene friendly
If you are unsure whether or not your business is hand hygiene friendly, take a walk around and look for the following: