October 15th is Global Handwashing Day. Pioneered by the Global Handwashing Partnership, it is a worldwide advocacy day that aims to increase awareness about the role handwashing with soap plays as an affordable, effective method of disease prevention.
By building awareness and providing education around proper handwashing practices, the Global Handwashing Partnership aims to make a difference in the importance placed on hand hygiene around the world. The theme for this years’ Global Handwashing Day is ‘Hand Hygiene For All’.
Global Handwashing Day is especially relevant in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic providing a critical reminder that proper hand hygiene – and especially washing with soap – is one of the most effective ways to prevent viruses from spreading.
However, outside of being important in helping to prevent disease and subsequent loss of life on a global scale, hand hygiene and virus prevention is also crucial on smaller scales, including in workplaces.
We’re here to investigate the statistics that demonstrate the importance of handwashing, before covering the industries most affected by poor hand hygiene. Finally, we will provide some handy tips on how you can implement a company-wide hand hygiene system for yourself.
How bacteria spreads
Proper handwashing technique is a beneficial habit to adopt and encourage since research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA has estimated that up to 80% of known diseases are transferred through touch alone.
There are a range of ways for bacteria to spread through touch, with some of the most notable including:
- From the hands, eyes, nose, and mouth to other people
- From hands to food
- From food to hands to food, through the handling of raw vegetables or meat, for example
- From children to adults during nappy changes. Bacteria can then spread to other children and adults
- From animals to people
In all of these instances, hands are the main culprit for spreading bacteria, underscoring the importance of regular handwashing.
The CDC found that proper handwashing technique was linked to a 23-40% reduction in diarrhoea contraction and a 16-21% reduction in respiratory illnesses, like colds.
However, here in the UK, research suggests that handwashing is not treated as a priority by citizens. A UK-wide study showed that, although 99% of people surveyed said they had washed their hands after going to the toilet, only 32% of men and 64% of women actually did
A further Harvard University study examining handwashing trends during the 2009 swine flu pandemic found that Britain ranked fifth out of the five countries surveyed, with only 53% of respondents admitting they increased their efforts during the period.
The CDC has also previously estimated that adherence to recommended handwashing practices could be less than 50% even in the healthcare sector.
There is hope, however, with more recent statistics gathered during the COVID-19 pandemic showing that 78% of Americans are now washing their hands at least six times a day with 88% claiming they’ll continue to do so even after the COVID-19 outbreak.
Handwashing in the workplace
In spite of these statistics, the truth is that handwashing in the workplace is highly important. Not only are employees much more likely to come into contact with new types of bacteria and take them home, but they’re also more likely to pass them on to customers, co-workers, or clients.
Moreover, proper handwashing in workplaces is particularly critical in places where people are more vulnerable to the threat of disease and bacteria. Hospitals, care homes, and schools are three such examples, as well as the hospitality industry (restaurants, cafés, and bars where food and drinks are handled and served by employees).
Facilitating handwashing in the workplace
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 requires that employers provide adequate and appropriate welfare facilities for employees while they are at work. Welfare facilities are those that are necessary for the wellbeing of employees, such as washing, toilet, rest and changing facilities.
The laws around hand washing facilities on commercial premises are that hand washbasins must have hot and cold running water, materials for cleaning hands such as liquid soap and hand sanitiser, as well as paper towels for drying. In most cases, liquid soap and paper towels are the most effective materials for cleaning and drying hands.
Therefore, as a precaution for keeping people who rely on your service safe, it is essential to have the appropriate equipment on hand to protect the health of your staff. At Bunzl CHS, we stock a vast range of workplace hygiene products – from hand soap refills to rolls of paper towels – from industry leading brands including TORK, PRISTINE, SC Johnson, and Kimberly-Clark.
Providing adequate information on handwashing techniques in the form of a sign near the basin can also help to remind employees to wash their hands, as well as showing them how to do so thoroughly. In organisations where employees work with food or vulnerable people, putting in place systematic reminders and regular training can remind employees when to wash their hands and ensure it happens regularly.