Hygiene in hand

07 March 2013

The HSE states that an employer must provide 'adequate toilet and washing facilities for employees.'Deborah Freeman discusses what determines 'adequate' and suggests some additional steps that can be taken to ensure optimum hand hygiene in the workplace

The HSE states that an employer must provide 'adequate toilet and washing facilities for employees.'Deborah Freeman discusses what determines 'adequate' and suggests some additional steps that can be taken to ensure optimum hand hygiene in the workplace

A washroom environment should actively promote good personal hygiene practices; it is imperative that washroom facilities are kept clean and in good condition, with an adequate supply of the basics such as washroom consumables and hand drying facilities.

Washroom products that encourage regular use
It is important that products are not only effective, but that they are pleasant and easy to use as this will encourage regular use.

Washing with soap and water is the most familiar way of removing dirt and grime and provided the skin is not heavily soiled, it is a very effective method. However, choice of the correct soap is critical.

A good quality soap, that gives a good lather with the particular water supply, will provide safe and often adequate cleansing.

However, some of the cheaper soaps and substitutes such as domestic detergents can be too harsh on the skin.

Similarly the use of solvents such as paraffin, thinners, petrol and white spirit should be avoided as should coarse abrasive such as pumice or sand as these will damage the outer surface of the skin and lead to skin problems; special skin cleansers should be used where deeply ingrained soilings are encountered.

Implementing effective hand hygiene measures
The format for how products are used is also very important in the daily challenge of implementing effective hand hygiene practices.

Wall-mounted dispensing systems that are colour-coded for ease of identification have long been recognised as the overall 'best practice' solution for delivering general skin care products. Such dispensers ensure the correct amount of product is used to minimise wastage and provide economy of material usage; they can also be permanently sited where they are needed the most.

Consideration should also be given to mobile or outdoor workers where no piped water supply is available. Special skin cleansers formulated for use without water or moist wipes specifically developed for skin cleansing provide a simple answer to the lack of plumbed washing facilities, although the skin should be washed with soap and water at the next convenient opportunity.

The correct method of cleaning is also an important factor as developing a good hand washing technique is imperative to ensure hands are thoroughly clean. Particular attention should be paid to the backs of the hands and fingertips as these are frequently missed.

Whichever method of skin cleansing is used,the skin should always be properly dried to avoid risk of chapping particularly during cold weather.

To sanitise or not to sanitise
Some employers question whether there is a place for sanitiser if quality skin care products are being used. In addition to providing adequate hand washing facilities, employers should encourage good hand hygiene practices by promoting the use of a hand sanitiser; applied regularly to clean, dry hands a sanitiser will complement routine hand washing to reduce the risk of germ transfer.

Everyone should use a hand sanitiser as they enter and leave their main work environment; this is particularly important in large communal offices. It is known that enclosed environments, where people who are working or interacting in close proximity with one another, whether in a workplace, public facility or leisure environment are at a higher risk of the spread of germs.

A hand sanitiser should be reapplied every 2-3 hours and certainly immediately after coughing, sneezing or touching surfaces or equipment likely to have been contaminated. It is particularly important to use a sanitiser prior to consuming food e.g. before a working lunch/finger buffet.

As working culture changes, practices such as hot-desking or eating lunch at your desk are considered to be conventional workplace behaviour. Consequently, our offices have become "bacteria cafeterias" as we transfer germs, invisible to the naked eye, from home to work and back again.

Education, education, education
Employers can encourage good hand hygiene practice by providing easy-to-understand awareness materials such as posters, stickers for use in the washrooms, on floors, mirrors and doors as well as reminders on company intranets of the importance of keeping hands clean. With modern day substrates, such as removable wall vinyls, stickers can be used and replaced without leaving any residue on walls, floors or mirrors.

Employers can also work with their washroom services suppliers to create a communications campaign to educate people why they should keep their hands clean. Free downloadable posters are readily available from established suppliers to help promote good hand hygiene practices.

So, by having a systemised approach to skin care, combined with programmes to educate employees about their skin, employers can provide a simple yet cost-effective solution to help all employees adopt good hand hygiene practices.

Deborah Freeman is the corporate communications manager for Deb