Hand hygiene - good for everyone

6th of December 2013
Hand hygiene - good for everyone

Why is hand hygiene so important to every one of us, and how can our industry do more to spread the key messages? Rob Lowe, marketing manager for Kimberly-Clark Professional in the UK and Ireland, writes exclusively for ECJ.

It’s a tragic fact that diarrheal infections take the lives of millions of children in developing countries – even though these illnesses are easily prevented with something as simple as good hand hygiene. Together they cause the majority of all child deaths globally.

Global Handwashing Day, which takes place annually on 15 October, was established to publicise this, and the event has grown steadily in influence and impact since its launch six years ago.

But it isn’t just in the developing world where hand hygiene is important. In developed nations, too, it can play an important role in keeping people healthy and well – and even saving lives. The widespread presence of the MRSA super-bug in many hospitals is a high profile example of where good hand hygiene can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Fortunately for most us, poor hand hygiene doesn’t usually lead to death. Yet any illness caused by poor hygiene – whether serious or minor – is nevertheless unpleasant and something we all wish to avoid. It can lead to lost working days, which can mean reduced productivity for businesses, and time off school for our children. For some businesses, poor hand hygiene can be a huge concern. In the restaurant trade, for example, it can lead to food poisoning – resulting in reputational damage or, worse, litigation.

It’s easy to take our health for granted but the threat of illness is never far away from us. Germs are everywhere. If you catch the bus, train or tube to work, you might have to stand at peak times. But did you know that the handle or pole that helps you keep your balance is probably covered with germs? It’s true – a study found that one in four people travelling on public transport had faecal bacteria on their hands. The ATMs we use to withdraw the money to pay for our morning coffee aren’t much cleaner. Another study found that cash machine keypads have as many harmful germs on them as a public toilet.

It’s an incredible fact that 50 per cent of us admit to using our mobile phones while sitting on the toilet. It sounds pretty unhygienic – and it is. Germs on our phones are easily transferred to our mouth and nose, which increases the chance of us catching minor illnesses like colds, flu and an upset stomach.

Bacteria thrive

Even an activity as innocent as eating your lunch at work can be a risky activity – if you dine ‘al desco’, that is. Research shows that our desks carry 400 times more germs than a toilet seat. All those leftover crumbs create the perfect environment for harmful bacteria to thrive. Our desks might look clean, but this can be deceiving because germs are invisible to the naked eye. In fact, desks carry on average 20,000 bacteria per square inch. It’s easy for these germs to pass from surface to person and between people.

But just three simple steps can stop germs in their tracks. We call them the ‘wash, wipe, sanitise’ protocol. People can keep their hands clean throughout the day by washing and drying them regularly with paper hand towels, as well as by using a hand sanitiser. Wipes are good for keeping desks clean, which will help prevent germs spreading around the office. Sanitising wipes are also great for cleaning mobile phones. Following the wash, wipe and sanitise protocol will dramatically reduce the chances of someone getting sick.

Incorporating the wash, wipe, sanitise protocol into an open environment, such as an office, isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Kimberly-Clark Professional has developed The Healthy Workplace Project for example, which makes it really easy for companies to reduce sickness levels among their staff by promoting the little things people can do to minimise the spread of germs in offices, such as washing and drying their hands properly, and using antibacterial hand sanitisers and wipes on a regular basis.

Nevertheless, it’s very important that washroom facilities and the consumables used in workplaces and public areas can withstand the pressure of large volumes of visitors on a daily basis. If they aren’t up to the job, it will compromise efforts to create a healthy workplace.

Dispensers that have run out of essentials such as hand towels and cleansers are a particular bugbear of washroom users. But at the same time, you don’t want to be checking continually that consumables are in good supply, when there are other more pressing tasks at hand. It’s in these situations that reducing usage of consumables becomes a valuable strategy.

Reducing usage isn’t about pleading with people to minimise hand cleanser and paper towel use. Much more effective is to install hygiene products that perform better with less consumption. Foam hand cleansers are ideal for this purpose. They’re quick to use, require less water and just a small amount is needed to create a truly luxurious lather. This means better cost-in-use, while less refilling is required – especially when they are dispensed from high capacity cartridges.  In fact, compared with conventional liquid soap, foam soaps can deliver twice as many hand washes per litre.

Specifying the right hand towels can also help a washroom run without a hitch. Look for hand towels made from modern, sustainable fabrics that offer superior absorbency and strength. Ideally, they should be dispensed individually. In addition, they shouldn’t break up when they’re wet and should offer outstanding drying performance. In combination, these benefits mean happy washroom users and fewer refills to worry about and, once again, enhanced cost-in-use.

If you specify rolled hand towels the benefits can be even greater. Compression technology means it is now possible to put more towels onto a roll – up to 50 per cent more in some instances. Rolls are available these days that can hold up to 354 metres of paper towel, which is perfect for high traffic washrooms. Compressed hand towels are also great when space is at a premium, and because less packaging is required they are sustainable, too.

Nothing is more important than our wellbeing. One of the most effective tools to keep people healthy is the strategic positioning and distribution of sanitisers, both non-alcohol and alcohol varieties. High performance hand sanitisers and sanitising wipes for surfaces can kill up to 99.999 per cent of common bacteria that cause illness within as little as 30 seconds. Remember to specify hand sanitisers that are pleasant and kind to the skin – otherwise people will not use them.

In addition, consider ‘caddies’ for desks and meeting rooms, containing all the products needed to create a healthy workplace outside of the washroom in a way that is compact and close-at-hand. A typical desk caddy could contain tissues, a hand sanitiser and surface wipes in a practical, personal holder designed to sit on an employee’s desk. A meeting room caddy could store a similar range of products but in a more suitable format.

Besides considering the performance of the products supplied and the quality of service provided, it’s also important to select a hygiene partner who respects the environment and adheres to sustainable business practices. Do they, for example, integrate ‘closed loop recycling’ into their own way of doing business – a production system in which the waste generated by one product is used to make another?

Some companies are already able to recycle all of the waste they generate from hygienic supplies, thereby creating a closed loop. But others need practical support with this. There are a number of ways a hygiene products supplier can help. For example, it might be the case that a change in product mix – for example a switch to products that are more effective and therefore reduce consumptions levels – could be the answer. Simply looking afresh at the products a customer purchases could help them to close the loop – and at the same time reduce their cost-in-use.


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