A sporting chance for hand hygiene

10 September 2014

The last thing an event organiser or leisure venue manager needs is an outbreak of illness to spoil a special occasion. Mike Sullivan, managing director of GOJO Europe, explains why hand hygiene is such an important weapon in keeping bugs at bay at large sporting or public events

Amidst all the excitement and celebrations of the opening to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, there was one story that didn’t reflect the sense of achievement and excellence that the event stands for. An outbreak of suspected norovirus in the athletes’ village over-shadowed the run-up to the event, bringing negative publicity for the organisers, as well as distress to those people directly affected.

It was widely reported that 53 workers had contracted what was suspected to be norovirus, with an additional 18 members of the security team also experiencing symptoms. Luckily none of the athletes or their team officials had reported symptoms.

Gastrointestinal illnesses thrive in many different closed and crowded environments. The effects of outbreaks are wide-ranging – from the personal discomfort of those who contract the virus, to the disruption to normal services caused by having to deal with the consequences of an outbreak, and the subsequent work needed to return things to normal.

According to the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), the symptoms of norovirus illness normally start 24-48 hours after the initial infection. The most common symptoms are vomiting and diarrhoea, but some people may also experience mild fever, headaches, stomach cramps and aching limbs. While it’s usual for symptoms to clear up after two or three days, the very young, the elderly, and those already in poor health may have more difficulty in recovering. 

The RSPH emphasises the importance of hand hygiene as an infection control measure. The thorough washing and drying of hands allows for the removal of any organic material picked up from contaminated surfaces containing the viral particles. During a norovirus outbreak it makes sense to wash and dry the hands more frequently throughout the day as touching a contaminated surface or person can lead to infection.

Ensuring hygiene products are on hand

Practising good hand hygiene is a simple but effective way to reduce the risk of contracting and/or spreading viruses. By equipping venues and facilities with effective and easy-to-use products, organisers can demonstrate their commitment to safeguarding the personal health and well-being of their visitors and staff.

There are many areas within a sports stadium or venue that can be enhanced by the provision of hand hygiene dispensers and systems. Public spaces such as washrooms, reception/ticket collection areas, restaurants or canteens, can all benefit from the appropriate siting of hand hygiene dispensers. However, ‘back office’ areas should not be forgotten, so adequate provision should also be made for offices and support staff.

While hand washing is vitally important, access to adequate facilities is not always possible, and this is where hand sanitising gel can play a major role. Some modern more advanced gel formulations can demonstrate strong viral efficacy and although this is not an alternative to hand washing, they can offer an interim or additional level of protection. Free standing or wall-mounted dispensers can be sited throughout large areas such as marquees or foyers, while pump bottles can be placed on tables where eating or drinking will take place. Miniature versions, which can be attached to belt loops or bags, ensure that staff and spectators have protection wherever they are and whenever they need it.

However, simply providing hand hygiene products is not enough. Getting the look and feel right is crucial if event organisers and facility managers are to encourage people to clean their hands regularly. The right dispensing systems play a significant role in encouraging people to develop healthy hand hygiene habits, and dispensers which look good will always be more of a draw for the user. Technology is helping to make dispensers sleeker and more pleasurable to use, with ‘touch free’ models becoming popular. Similarly, soap and hand gel formulations can combine efficacy with ‘spa-like’ fragrances and colours, enhancing the visitor experience.

We have been treated to a number of fantastic sporting events this summer – Wimbledon, the World Cup, and the Commonwealth Games to name but a few. Outbreaks of illness have no place at such events, but by investing in hand hygiene systems the risks can be reduced significantly.