A hands-on approach to hand hygiene

20th of November 2015
A hands-on approach to hand hygiene

Well-being is crucial to everyone in all walks of life – and it’s as important in the workplace as it is in our personal lives. Continuity and consistency are key, but the spread of illness can place a strain on resource and operations.

Mike Sullivan, managing director of GOJO Industries Europe, explains how employers and facility managers can gain the upper hand when it comes to creating healthy and hygienic working environments, and show that they care for their employees, customers and service users, by implementing effective hand hygiene programmes.

Someone once memorably said that absence makes the heart grow fonder. In romantic liaisons this may be true – depending on your point of view – but it does absolutely nothing in terms of productivity and profitability for any organisation providing services or support.

Factoring out natural disasters and critical incidents such as fires and industrial accidents – all of which are thankfully rare – the spread of illness through an organisation is perhaps one of the most potent threats any business or service faces. Like throwing a stone into a pond, one person’s cough or cold can quickly cause ripples throughout the entire workforce, as more and more people are infected and have to take days off to recover. When you consider the additional strains placed on healthy staff, who have to back-fill for their ill colleagues, it’s obvious that keeping your workforce well has to be a priority.

‘Health at Work – an independent review of sickness absence’, a report by Dame Carol Black and David Frost CBE that was published in the UK in November 2011, states that sickness absence from work can be, “wasteful and damaging – to individuals and their families, employers and our wider society”.

Europe is also becoming increasingly alert to the problems caused by workplace absence. The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions published its report ‘Absence from Work’ in July 2010. Its aim was to, “address patterns of absenteeism in the 27 EU countries and Norway, the costs involved, policies for dealing with absence and general developments in relation to promoting health and well-being.”

While the study revealed that the availability of absence statistics varied greatly from country to country, one of its conclusions was that promoting good health and attendance instead of penalising absence has become a growing policy priority – and an area where hand hygiene can play a pivotal role.

Clean hands for health

Our 24-7 media, both social and ‘traditional’, is quick to capitalise on any disruption to delivery of services – whether this is the closure of a hospital ward or the early curtailment of a cruise because of a norovirus outbreak, or diners affected by food poisoning at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Readers will easily recognise these examples, and be able to add more of their own – many of them caused by the spread of germs and viruses.

Faced with the triple whammy of unwelcome publicity, a downturn in productivity and output, and plummeting customer satisfaction, organisations need to take preventative steps to protect both their reputations and their employees – and investing in effective hand hygiene solutions will make a huge difference.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the leading national public health institutes in the USA, says: “Keeping hands clean is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infection and illness.” This is borne out by research from the University of Arizona, which found that almost 80 per cent of all illnesses are transmitted by hands.

Human beings are social animals and everyday life involves countless interactions with our fellow citizens. From schools, colleges and universities to the workplace, shops, leisure centres, healthcare providers and cinemas we, and more precisely our hands, come into contact with lots of different surfaces – where germs lie in wait.  Community has perhaps become an overused word in recent years, but it has largely positive associations for us all, with its emphasis on togetherness and working for the common good. One of the very few negatives is the fact that germs love communities – because they provide perfect breeding grounds in which to swarm, multiply and spread.

The length of time bacteria and viruses can live outside the body depends on each individual organism and what kind of surface they are on, according to the UK’s NHS Choices. Cold viruses can survive on indoor surfaces for more than seven days whereas flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces for less than 24 hours. Stomach bugs are another huge cause of ill health but whereas salmonella and campylobacter survive for between one and four hours on hard surfaces and fabrics, norovirus and clostridium difficile can last much longer, surviving for up to days, and sometimes weeks.

For someone with no underlying health issues catching a cold or a stomach bug will usually be a short, albeit uncomfortable and unpleasant experience. However for people with established respiratory conditions, or the very young and very old who may be less able to fight off infection, they can easily develop into something more serious. Education on the benefits of practising good hand hygiene, together with easy access to products and systems that are effective in combating germs and a pleasure to use, are therefore essential for all public facing organisations and businesses – great or small.

The potential for hands to spread bacteria is obvious – just think about what yours might do in just one day. We all touch a multitude of surfaces ranging from door handles to escalator rails and shopping trolleys to computer keyboards. In many doctors’ surgeries we’re now asked to sign in for our appointments using a touch screen monitor – which many other people have touched before ourselves! If this is the case at your surgery, perhaps it’s time to suggest that they provide hygienic hand rub to be used before and after you tap that screen, if they don’t do so already.

The basic principles behind hand hygiene are simple and straightforward – if you wash your hands more often you can protect yourself against illness and disease – but don’t let that simplicity fool you. The bacteria we face are complex and adaptable, but effective hand hygiene regimes do work, and there are independent results to prove it. GOJO has conducted multiple outcome studies to scientifically prove that a programme using hand soaps, hand sanitiser and state-of-the-art dispensing systems will reduce illness and absenteeism across a wide range of everyday settings. The results showed:

• 21 per cent reduction in absenteeism in the workplace – conducted at a FedEx facility

• 50 per cent reduction in absenteeism in an educational setting (elementary school)

• 29 per cent reduction in infection rates at an extended care facility

• 36 per cent reduction in infection rates at an acute care facility

• 20 per cent reduction in illness and 43 per cent reduction in absenteeism in a higher education setting (University of Colorado)

These results should provide reassurance to managers and business owners that a solution does exist for every situation. Take education as an example. Teachers who are ill incur significant costs. As well as the sick pay for the unfortunate employee, extra funds will be needed to pay for supply teachers to cover classes. If the contagion spreads to students absenteeism will affect their academic achievement.

This could result in less than spectacular exam results, which will reflect badly in league tables – not to mention the dissatisfaction of parents, and stress caused to all parties. This scenario could be replayed in any other public service or business setting by just changing some of the words, but it will still achieve the same results – namely nose-diving employee morale, customer satisfaction, profits … the list goes on.

Help is at hand

Hand hygiene systems are easy to incorporate into any work or leisure facility but in order to get people to use them they need to have a number of attributes. It’s often said that we eat with our eyes, and aesthetics play a crucial role in hand hygiene too. Dispensers that look good, and are easy to operate, will encourage more people to wash theirs hands, and the more they do it, the more it becomes a habit.

Futuristic elements such as touch-free technology provide an additional element of attraction. These dispensers intuitively sense the presence of hands and dispense just the right amount of soap every time. Not only does this save money, as less soap is wasted, it is also more hygienic as it negates the needed to press a button or touch another surface.

Soap formulations need to be effective, with claims backed up through independent scientific testing, but they also need to be a pleasure to use, incorporating colours scents and textures that appeal to the senses and will keep hands in good condition – not just hygienically clean but moisturised and protected, too. You certainly wouldn’t expect soap to make you sick – so how you refill your dispensers is another important part of creating a healthy workplace through hand hygiene.

Buying in bulk is often associated with cost savings, but bulk-fill soap dispensers are a false economy because they carry a high risk of bacterial contamination every time they are filled up. The reason for this is simple. A bulk-fill dispenser is refilled by pouring liquid soap from a container into an open reservoir at the top of the unit. Being exposed to the environment, this open reservoir can be infiltrated by bacteria, which forms a biofilm on the inside of the dispenser.

Biofilms are groups of bacteria that coat surfaces and are hard to wash off or ‘kill’. As the film coats the inside of the reservoir, any soap subsequently poured into it can become contaminated. Simply cleaning the reservoirs may not solve this problem as one study found that despite employing multiple cleaning methods, including bleach-based products, contaminated bulk-fill dispensers became re-contaminated within two weeks of cleaning. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised the bacteria contamination risk of refillable bulk soap dispensers and has issued guidelines against this practice.

GOJO has been at the forefront of hand hygiene innovation for many years, and its SANITARY SEALED refills are a direct response to the problems posed by bulk-fill dispensers. Each refill is sanitary sealed, meaning that the product inside is protected from contamination and each refill comes with a fresh valve. This not only enhances hygiene and health outcomes, it also makes the lives of maintenance staff easier.

Hand sanitisers are useful when access to washing facilities are limited and means that employees are not restricted to the washroom as a place to keep their hands clean. PURELL Advanced Hygienic Hand Rub provides an additional layer of protection thanks to its antimicrobial efficacy. It is available as a gel for use on the hands, through wall-mounted or free-standing dispensers. However, in this era of ‘hot desking’ it can also be provided in pump dispenser bottles for table tops, and in travel sized bottles that can easily attach to clothing so that hand hygiene is possible anywhere and everywhere.

The importance of encouraging and maintaining good hand hygiene, whether at work or play, cannot be over-emphasised. By investing in the best hand hygiene solutions businesses and services can be protected, while increasing the well-being of employees, customers and clients. Faced with the possible consequences of an outbreak of illness managers and facility owners could be forgiven for going into panic mode, but my advice is simple and I make no apologies for misquoting a popular phrase, ‘keep calm and carry on cleaning your hands’.



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