No matter what industry you work in – whether it’s manufacturing or medicine, education or electronics – you probably wash your hands a few times every day. But are you doing it right? Are you washing your hands often enough?
This New York Times article highlights the financial and human impact of employees not using proper hand washing technique. While the CDC has released a number of alarming statistics about hand washing in the workplace in general, the New York Times article is somewhat more disheartening, as it focuses on handwashing among medical professionals.
According to the article, hospital-acquired infections (that is, when you are admitted to a hospital for one complaint and wind up ill with an infection you received while in the hospital) cost approximately $30,000,000,000 – that’s $30 billion. In an average year, these infections lead to almost 100,000 patient deaths.
That’s a terrifying reality that could easily be eliminated through increased vigilance on the part of medical staff and everyone who comes into contact with a patient during the course of a day. A number of studies referenced in the article linked above show that personnel were washing their hands only 10-30% of the time. With supervision, incentives, and the knowledge that colleagues and strangers alike are watching, that number increased, but still not to 100%.
The medical environment is not the only place where hand hygiene is often forgotten or ignored. According to the CDC, even in non-industry settings, only 31% of men and 65% of women washed their hands after using a public washroom. In any given community where handwashing education is a priority, there is a reduction in the number of incidents of respiratory illnesses (like colds), diarrhea, and other ailments. These were reduced by 21 – 58% in the studies cited by the CDC (see the link in paragraph 2), and employee absenteeism was also reduced.
When employees are at work and ill, they are less productive than when they are functioning at their normal level. There is also a risk of spreading bacteria and disease to coworkers, especially if proper hand hygiene is not followed – no matter the industry. Not only does this hurt the bottom line in the short term, it can cause a cycle of illness that leads to employees continually being reinfected with the “bug” they had in the first place, as it spreads from department to department and area to area. Any manufacturing facility knows that contamination absolutely must be controlled in all products – contamination should also be controlled within the workforce. Hand washing is the first line of defense against infectious diseases.
So we know that we have to wash our hands. But are you sure you know how to wash your hands?
After wetting your skin with warm (not hot or cold) water and applying the soap, you should lather vigorously all over for 15 full seconds before rinsing. Sing or hum the “Happy Birthday” song to yourself while lathering to ensure that you’ve spent enough time on this step. Rinse completely – again, in warm water – and dry hands thoroughly.
Any soap or hand cleaner, if not rinsed entirely away, may cause drying of the skin – industrial hand cleaners especially. While dry skin is often seen as little more than an irritation, it can lead to serious issues down the road. Dermatitis and sensitivity can be caused by improper use of a heavy duty cleaner that employs solvents and harsh grits such as sands or pumice to remove stubborn contaminants. A number of products use walnut shells to provide the grit – these work extremely well, provided none of your employees or any of their family and friends are allergic to nuts and legumes. Be aware of how hands are being washed, but also be conscious of the impact of the product being used, as well.
How can proper hand hygiene save you money?
By reducing absenteeism and breaking the illness cycle in high-risk areas and times of year. By reducing or eliminating the risk of contagion or obtaining an infection in a medical facility (or in any industry). By reducing or eliminating the need for post-washing specialized skin care due to dermatitis. Education about proper technique – and vigilance once training is completed – is essential to a healthy and productive workplace. Choose a hand cleaner that is powerfully effective, safer on skin, and safer on the environment to even further reduce your financial and human impact.
(For more information about hand hygiene, visit the CDC, Public Health Agency of Canada, and the World Health Organization. For more information about WORX Environmental Products, and to learn more about our safer-to-use and environmentally-certified industrial hand cleaner, visit our website at www.worx.ca)