Seven tips for getting handwashing right at work

The truth about handwashing is that it is probably the single best and simplest way to stop the spread of illness at work. As well as playing its part in reducing absenteeism, handwashing has a vital role in the growing trend of presenteeism. Research shows that it’s not only sick days that cost UK workplaces, but also an increased number of people being at work when they’re ill enough to be at home.

Presenteeism brings with it several issues including reduced productivity and morale, not to mention the number of sick colleagues bringing their viruses into the workplace. When even one person goes into work unwell, more than half of commonly touched surfaces in an office can be infected with the virus by lunchtime, according to University of Arizona research.

Employers who want to reduce absenteeism and deal with the germ-spreading consequences of presenteeism should look at handwashing products and the promotion of their use as an essential step in the fight against workplace viruses.

With Global Handwashing Day, the importance of keeping our hands clean is being highlighted by organisations worldwide. The evidence for handwashing is no better reinforced than in developing countries where handwashing with soap has been shown to reduce the prevalence of diarrhoea by 40% and school absenteeism by 54%.

While most of us in the UK are fortunate enough to survive a cold, flu or stomach upset, this doesn’t take away the fact that the number of days spent off work ill or at work when we’re unwell, adds up to an average 34.6 days per employee in the public sector, 32.5 days per employee in the financial services sector and 25.8 days in retail and wholesale alone.

So what do people need to know about handwashing? Here are seven vital tips from the experts:

  1. Cool Water Works

While you may prefer warm water for comfort, the important thing is to use clean, running water, even if it is cold. The actual temperature does not affect microbe removal.

  1. Cause Friction

Lathering and scrubbing with soap creates friction which lifts dirt and microbes from your hands.

  1. Soap Matters

Whether anti-bacterial or not, washing with soap makes all the difference. In non-healthcare settings, you don’t need anti-bacterial soap. Research has shown that while anti-bacterial soap has a role to play in health and care environments, end users can achieve good results with plain soap.

  1. Scrub Everywhere

You need to scrub the front and back of your hands, between the fingers and particularly under your nails, where microbes can be concentrated.

  1. 15-30 seconds is ideal

While how long you clean for could depend on how dirty your hands are, most experts conclude that cleaning for between 15 and 30 seconds will remove more germs than any shorter period. A popular recommendation is to sing the Happy Birthday song twice while you scrub, which takes around 20 seconds.

  1. Rinse

Rinsing your hands under running water will wash off any dirt and germs that have been lifted off by scrubbing, but also minimises any irritation that could be caused by soap.

  1. Dry

Drying is an important last step because it removes any leftover germs. Use a clean paper towel or an efficient air dryer.