Improving Hand Hygiene – A Basic Step In Stopping Viruses

The results of two recent surveys suggest that most employees are not washing and drying their hands properly at work, despite hand hygiene being vital in helping to reduce the spread of COVID and other viral and bacterial infections.

Survey Results

One survey, commissioned by hygiene and facility service provider Elis UK, found that 55% of employees admitted to washing their hands for less than the recommended 20 seconds when they are at work. Twenty-seven per cent said they took ten seconds or less to wash their hands. Only 37% said they wash their hands for 20 seconds or more, with those over 55 (45%) more likely to adhere to the recommended time, compared to other age groups.

It was also discovered that 57% say they leave the workplace bathroom with damp hands because the drying equipment is not good enough or fast enough. Employees working in London (60%) and those under 35 (65%) were the most likely to say this. Just 31% of employees say they always leave their workplace toilets with dry hands, compared to 66% who say their hands are dry when they leave a bathroom at home.

Elis has produced a report on their research findings called ‘The Truth About Hand Washing’.

Another survey conducted in June by Opinion Matters for Initial Washroom Hygiene found that of 1,000 UK consumers, only 54% said they dry their hands after washing them. Research has shown that damp hands can spread more bacteria and viruses than dry hands.

Comparing Handwashing Habits

The June 2021 survey for Initial Washroom Hygiene offered an opportunity to compare UK handwashing habits before and after the onset of the COVID pandemic.

In research conducted in 2018, it was found that 74% said they always wash their hands after using a public washroom.

With the onset of the pandemic, the government started a public information campaign focusing on correct handwashing to help prevent and slow the spread of COVID. In October 2020, research by Initial Washroom Hygiene suggested this campaign had been successful, with 81% of Brits saying they would continue to wash their hands more frequently at home and in public, even after the pandemic was over.

However, the June 2021 survey found that fewer people, only 66%, said they always wash their hands after using a public washroom.

On a more positive note, the survey suggests the public is using hand sanitiser more than before the pandemic. Some 56% of people working in a shared workplace or building say they are likely to sanitise their hands regularly at work to help manage hygiene risks.

Improving Hand Hygiene Facilities

The finding that employees are more likely to leave workplace washrooms with damp hands, compared to their bathroom at home, and that many believe inadequate facilities are to blame, means there is an opportunity for employers to improve hand hygiene by providing better equipment. The HSE has a series of pages on its website on cleaning, hygiene and handwashing to reduce coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission. They include advice on handwashing and handwashing facilities.

Some signs and posters can be displayed prominently in hand hygiene areas to remind and help workers practise good handwashing techniques.

For removing germs from hands, soap and water are generally believed to be preferable to using a hand sanitiser. Hand sanitisers may kill viruses and some bacteria, but they do not remove actual dirt and debris. Soap kills germs, binds them, and helps physically remove them from your skin with the water. However, in areas where running water is not available, hand sanitiser is usually the best alternative.

One possible improvement for the washroom would be the use of no-touch soap and sanitiser dispensers. According to surveys, almost three quarters (73%) of people indicated that they would be more inclined to sanitise their hands if the dispenser is no touch. Seventy per cent of people surveyed said they would be more likely to wash their hands if the soap dispenser provided was no touch.

The paper towel is the traditional way to dry hands outside the home. However, many leave the washroom with damp hands because they believe it takes too long to get their hands completely dry. In high usage areas, paper towel dispensers can empty quite quickly, making it more likely for people to leave the area with damp hands. Paper towels can also become contaminated and pose a hygiene hazard if not disposed of properly. Employers should ensure paper towel dispensers work correctly. Dispensers that regularly jam cause wastage and frustration that leave employees with damp hands.

Electric dryers that blow warm air can take up to 43 seconds to dry hands thoroughly. However, research suggests people are unwilling to wait more than 15 seconds to dry their hands. Another problem is that most people tend to rub their hands together when using traditional hand dryers. However, research has found that rubbing hands under a warm air dryer increases the bacteria on the surface of the skin rather than removing it. This problem can be solved by using dryers that have a HEPA filter to remove almost all the bacteria in the air being heated by the dryer.

Following the promotion of information about the importance of handwashing, it is disappointing to see survey results suggesting handwashing habits are worse now than before the pandemic. Handwashing is a simple and effective way of helping to prevent the spread of harmful microbes, and employers can play an important role in encouraging people to practice good hand hygiene. Providing a good standard of handwashing facilities, touch-free dispensers and signage to act as reminders can go a long way to helping prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses.

Find out about New Broom Training Health and Safety Training Courses and Consultancy.