Attitudes to hand hygiene - changing behaviour

7th of June 2023
Attitudes to hand hygiene - changing behaviour

Hand hygiene specialist Dettol Pro Solutions has provided solutions at many large-scale events since the pandemic. Having observed consumer behaviour, it has now made use of behaviourial science in encouraging people to follow hand hygiene protocols. Dr Lisa Ackerley writes for ECJ.

Dettol Pro Solutions is the B2B arm of consumer hygiene brand Dettol. Since launching to market in 2021, we’ve been incredibly proud to work on some of the most landmark large-scale events in the UK, including the Platinum Jubilee Pageant, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, and the UN’s annual climate change summit COP26.

Large-scale events have been held against a very particular backdrop - in many instances, organisers were bringing crowds or spectators together in large numbers for the first time since the onset of the pandemic. Our team worked closely with event organisers to ensure all these attendees - many of whom were travelling from all over the world - would feel reassured in these spaces and able to focus on the excitement of the event they’d come to be part of.

What was interesting for us to observe, however, was consumer behaviour during these occasions as people re-adjusted to being part of a large crowd and seeing live sport or music again - particularly because behavioural science is a crucial ingredient for the Dettol Pro Solutions team when it comes to building protocols.

The methodology we apply to these protocols is ‘targeted hygiene’ - an approach which sees us identifying the most high-touch areas of a space, then pinpointing the timing and frequency required for disinfection of these key areas. As the term suggests, the focus of a targeted hygiene programme is to clean and disinfect when and where it will be most effective, simply cleaning at the end or start of the day is inefficient.

Here’s what we learned from supporting some of the most historic events hosted in the UK over the past 12 months.

The pandemic reshaped the way consumers approach hand hygiene. Research carried out by the consumer insights team at Reckitt, makers of Dettol, in June 2021 showed that 56 per cent of people said they washed or sanitised their hands ‘more frequently’ compared to 2020. Yet one in three (36 per cent) said the frequency of hand-washing or sanitising remained the same with eight per cent declaring they were doing it less. What’s more, between October 2020 and October 2021, one in six were ‘unable to recall’ how often they washed their hands.

‘Hygiene fatigue’ was something we were cognisant of whilst planning with our event partners, and we knew that we needed to lean into our behavioural science expertise to encourage guests to practice good hand hygiene. We’ve always used motivations, effective nudge theory and choice architecture within our hygiene protocols at Reckitt, but we knew it would be especially important when building a hygiene ‘roadmap’ which would need to be adopted for thousands of people at once.

‘Nudging’ change

One of the most widely used approaches for behavioural change at both individual and societal levels is ‘nudging’, which refers to relatively low-cost behavioural change techniques to influence behaviour and decision making. Nudge theory can be effective at influencing the likelihood of someone exhibiting a behaviour - which we saw in action at COP26, where we implemented nudge-based hygiene interventions as part of our protocol.

Eleven in every 1,000 people in the Scottish population were infected with Covid-19 virus after the event, but only two in every 1,000 people officially affiliated with COP26 tested positive, according to a report from Public Health Scotland (2021).

We’ve found that introducing a disruptive cue into an environment - like a voice speaking to you out of a sanitising dispenser - may be able to interrupt habitual neurological patterns to effect and then sustain behaviour change. Making a behaviour as easy as possible to ‘do’ increases the chances of its success; hence it’s not enough to just instruct people to wash their hands - it’s more about ensuring they have the opportunity to do so and are reminded, encouraged, motivated or nudged to take action at the most appropriate moments.

The talking hand sanitiser dispensers we installed at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games were a great example of this in action. We installed over 100 of them to be used across the 12-day event with a counter on each unit, and found that spectators sanitised their hands hundreds of times.

In total, we distributed more than 2,800 hand sanitiser stations at the various venues across Birmingham and the West Midlands. We also distributed 33,600 hygiene kits for volunteers, staff and attendees; delivered 10 targeted hygiene protocols for various public areas; and provided 28,000 litres of hand sanitiser.

What does this all mean for the future of the event sector? Happily, the great success of all these events points to a clear appetite among consumers to get back to brilliant big events such as the Platinum Jubilee Pageant.

However, our findings from our work on these events points to a continued need for robust hygiene measures to be implemented to ensure maximum enjoyment for guests. Despite the pandemic having impacted our relationship with hygiene, there’s a danger that if organisations
don’t place the necessary gravitas on hygiene measures, consumers may fall foul of hygiene fatigue and revert to poorer hygiene practices.

Organisers must therefore do everything they can to make it easy for everyone to practice good hand hygiene. The experience we have at Dettol, in building behavioural science principles into the overall approach and the success of events such as the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, show that it is not just what products you make available that matters, but where they are located, the reminders to use them and how people interact with them that makes
the difference.


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