The Cinderella of hand hygiene?
07 March 2013
The association between absence from work because of colds and flu spread through poor hand hygiene is well know but the role of hand drying in reducing the spread of infections is often underestimated,as new research has highlighted
Asurvey carried out by Bradford University on behalf of Connect Hygiene has indicated that while 87% of office employees thought hand washing was effective at controlling the spread of infection, only 13% thought hand drying had any contribution to make.
But hand drying is also thought to be vitally important in preventing post wash transfer of bacteria from the hand's surface to the next hard surface it touches and where it can survive for up to two hours.This is because the hand still has some bacteria on it after washing; washing only lowers the number of bacteria, it doesn't eliminate them.To do that, thorough hand drying is necessary to remove water, soap, dirt and dead cells and vastly reduce the spread of bacteria.
The survey shows that on average, an office worker in the UK takes 6 days off sick each year.The office managers surveyed underestimated that finding, surmising that each member of staff takes only around three days off per annum through sickness.They further surmised that it costs around £200 to organise replacements for absent staff members by drafting in other staff members or by recruiting temporary agency workers as cover.Office workers total around 10million of the total UK workforce of some 29million. If the manager's figure is correct, then £1.3 billion is spent on covering for members of staff who are ill.That's money straight off the bottom line. But it's not right.The survey showed that managers were only concerned with their own immediate responsibilities, they did not include other administration costs nor additional management time.
In fact the figure is likely to be twice their own estimate.That's a £2.6billion cost.
So what can be done to reduce this previously invisible cost? Well, good hand hygiene is very simple to achieve. Cheap, old-fashioned methods can be very effective in cutting your risk of catching flu,' says Dr Tom Jefferson of the Cochrane Collaboration and that includes thorough hand drying on a disposable paper towel. Perhaps that it is why it is rarely considered at senior management level. But the numbers suggest that it should be.
Connect Hygiene Products believe that hand drying is the Cinderella of the hand hygiene process. Perhaps we should start to think of the twin critical actions of washing and drying as separate components of a single and very important infection control procedure. So that hand washing and hand drying with paper towels are recognised as being two equally important elements of effective hand hygiene.
Education, education, edcuation
45% of the employees in the survey wanted more information when they were made aware of the facts of the contribution to away from home health standards of thorough hand drying using a disposable paper towel.However, some managers expressed a reluctance to make staff aware of the need for proper hand drying, saying that "I think it would come across as patronising. I mean we are all adults" It is that lack of knowledge that is costing billions of pounds and surely that view can't be shared in the company boardrooms.Given that there is great acceptance of the need for hand washing in infection control, it only requires a nudge from some explanatory promotional material to tap into the existing goodwill and make inroads into reducing that huge hidden cost.
Again the survey suggested the various tones of voice of the message most likely to develop a positive response, with subtle differences between male and female staff members. Sadly the message that was universally deplored was "Now wash your hands".
Of course it is impossible to cut the costs of sickness at work entirely, because people are going to be ill. But by introducing the notion that thorough hand drying is not a nuisance, but a genuinely important part of hand hygiene and thus a vital part of the battle to stop the spread of infections in the work place, it can be reduced.To achieve that it needs to be taken seriously by both junior and senior management.