Ensuring Proper Hand Hygiene: Enforcement Over Encouragement?

One of the most important aspects of health and safety in any workplace, but especially in health care and food production, is hand hygiene. Many companies and institutions recognize this and invest a lot of time and effort (as well as money) into campaigns highlighting the importance of regular hand washing. In hospitals, gel dispensers are often installed onto walls near doorways and entrances to wards. Yet contamination and infection remain. In the health care sector, infections put a huge strain on the day-to-day running of hospitals and, more worryingly, result in fatalities. Every year we anticipate sickness season and an outbreak of the winter flu, yet each year we seem underprepared and unable to control the outbreak of an infection.

One proactive measure we must take to counter workplace illness is striving for hand hygiene enforcement rather than encouragement.

For many, washing ones hands after the toilet and before eating seems sufficient in preventing the spread of germs. This unfortunately is not sufficient. Firstly, the majority of people do not even wash their hands properly. In addition, a hygiene practice such as the one given above does nothing to prevent the procurement of infectious germs between washes. We often do not realize how many germs there are on items we touch on a regular basis, such as door handles and hand rails. This is significant because bacteria can survive on surfaces for as many as three hours. Even the most proactive cleaning departments will struggle to maintain constant cleanliness of something like a door handle.

A recent study from Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL), together with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), into hand hygiene in the United Kingdom found that fecal bacteria were present on 26 percent of hands. The same report found "gross contamination" on 11 percent of hands -- levels similar to a toilet bowl.

Some of the most startling and concerning statistics come from studies into handwashing practices. According to a study carried out by Initial Washroom Hygiene (IWH) to mark Global Handwashing Day in October 2014, one in four admitted to not washing their hands after visiting the toilet. The same study found that 60 percent of employee illness originated from contaminated workplace equipment, with offices containing bacteria and viruses such as norovirus and E.coli. Viruses can survive on some surfaces for as many as three days.

A Michigan State University hygiene report found that 33 percent didn't use soap and 10 percent didn't wash their hands at all after visiting the toilet. Men were particularly bad at washing their hands correctly. The recommended amount of time to be spent on hand washing is 15-20 seconds.

Studies like these are worrying, especially in relation to ensuring workplace hygiene in sensitive areas, such as hospital wards and facilities handling food. Such research also highlights how relying on people to practice sufficient hand hygiene practices is unwise. Currently, in many areas, hand hygiene is quite literally in the hands of employees.

To achieve widespread proper hand hygiene we must move from encouragement to enforcement. Simply highlighting the risks and asking employees to wash their hands properly or use wall-based gel dispensers is not enough. We must enforce hand hygiene by adopting products that make hand hygiene compulsory and avoidable. This won't just compensate for those who practice poor hand hygiene, but also for those who in the midst of a busy day at work simply forget to wash their hands as often as they ought to.

George Emery is from Pure Hold, a UK-based company behind the Hygiene Handle, a unique product that enforces hand hygiene by involving it in the simple act of opening a door. The Hygiene Handle is fitted onto standard pull-doors and emits sanitizing gel onto the hand upon grip, out of a valve. To find out more about the Pure Hold Hygiene Handles, visit www.purehold.co.uk or find us on Twitter at @PureHold.

Posted by George Emery on Nov 12, 2014