With each New Year comes resolutions and healthier lifestyle choices. Whether you’re planning to run regularly or incorporate more kindness into your everyday routine, there’s one simple, quick and healthy resolution everyone can make this year: improve your handwashing technique.
A typical person's hand can carry many millions of bacteria, some of which are naturally found on our bodies (the human microbiome) and some of which are pathogens (otherwise known as “germs”). Also, some bacteria or viruses may be harmless to one person but can cause illness in others. For these reasons, we can never fully know what we are carrying or what impact it may have on those around us. Proper handwashing at all times whether healthy or not is vital to preventing the spread of germs throughout the workplace.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps people can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Frequent and thorough handwashing is the single best way to protect yourself and others against the seasonal flu, colds and other infections throughout the year. This leads to less sick days, increased worker productivity and improved employee morale. By preventing the spread of germs, you can create a more productive and healthier working environment.
Perfecting the Best Handwashing Technique
Separate washroom studies from around the world show that only 70 percent of people wash their hands after using the restroom and only 30 percent of people use soap when washing their hands. Learning best handwashing practices usually occurs at a young age, but those practices can easily be forgotten and are often replaced with bad habits, like washing hands too quickly, not using the right amount of soap and assuming hands aren’t dirty when they aren’t visibly soiled. If you’ve fallen into any bad handwashing habits, now is the time to scrub them off.
Hands and other soiled parts of the body should be cleaned at least at the end of each work period, prior to breaks, after coughing or sneezing and when visiting the restroom. Follow these easy-to-remember steps to ensure all dirt and contaminants from the skin are removed during handwashing:
- Wet hands before dispensing a dose of soap into your cupped hand
- Make sure soap covers the total surface of both hands
- Rub hands together for at least 20 seconds and try humming the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of hands, wrists, between the fingers and under the fingernails
- Properly dry hands with towels to avoid risks of chapping and spreading infection. Ideally, ‘single use’ disposable towels should be used as the use of a ‘communal’ towel can lead to contamination
- Use a disposable towel to turn off the faucet and when exiting the restroom door
Washing hands correctly is a habit that can easily be incorporated into your everyday routine. Making sure hands are scrubbed long enough with soap and using clean towels to dry off is the basic formula for proper hand hygiene.
How Much Soap to Apply
Washing with soap – not just water – is vital to proper hygiene. This is because while water is powerful at rinsing away dirt, it cannot easily remove soil or organisms that are attached to the hands. Soap is able to do this very effectively, maximizing the rinsing benefit of the water.
Despite this, in recent times some manufacturers have promoted smaller and smaller hand soap dosages, enabling them to claim an economic benefit due to more doses per liter of soap. Sadly, such claims are not supported by evidence and indeed product testing has shown that low dosage levels do not, in many instances, result in cleaning any better than using water alone, leaving people misled and potentially at risk of spreading infections despite their own best and well-intended efforts.
So how much soap should you use, and what type? Foaming hand soap has been demonstrated to enable a significant reduction in the environmental impact of commercial washrooms through a combination of water and energy savings and lower chemical impact compared to traditional liquid soaps. Foam soaps also cover more hand surface area per dose, providing a more effective wash.
A recent test concluded that a dose of 0.7ml is the lowest dose sufficient to comfortably spread across all surfaces of most people’s hands. Therefore, the test concludes that this dose is the best balance between required effectiveness and economics. Many manufacturers suggest using much lower doses however in testing, a dose of 0.4ml only covered 53 percent of the hand surface area and did not produce a cleaning result any better than water alone. Using the optimal amount of foam soap is necessary to produce clean, bacteria-free hands.
Keep Skin Care and Hand Hygiene Handy at All Times
When water and soap aren’t available, hand sanitizers are a common and simple solution for hand hygiene. Placing cleansers at easy-to-find places enforces the importance of clean hands throughout the day.
Another important step for workplaces to take on for the New Year is to provide hand care creams for workers in industrial environments. Pre and post-work creams improve hand health, prevent skin irritation, and lower the risk of occupational dermatitis, a common infection suffered by many that work within the industrial industry.
Making it a goal to wash your hands properly may sound like a small New Year’s resolution or change to make, but it’s one that’ll have a major payoff. After all, it only takes one sick person to spread the germs that could infect an entire facility, school or home. Raising the standards of hand hygiene for yourself and others will lead to increased productivity and morale in and outside of the workplace. Practicing proper hand hygiene and encouraging coworkers, friends and family to do the same is an active way to protect the health of one another year round.
 “Optimizing Foam Soap Dose for Hand Washing”; Deb Group, January 2012
 “Soap Suds and Savings”; Durrant, A.; McKay, A.; Sustainable Business, August/September 2011, 32-33
About Patrick Boshell
Patrick Boshell is the Marketing Director for Deb Canada and the managing editor for Deb Group's Hand Hygiene, Infection Prevention and Food Safety blog. He's been actively involved in the Canadian commercialization of several Deb innovations includingOptidose InstantFOAM Hand Sanitizer for healthcare and GrittyFOAM Heavy Duty Hand Cleaner for manufacturing and industrial applications.
Patrick is responsible for many of the most popular articles featured in this blog and is an advocate for making hand hygiene contagious in the workplace. He is a social media enthusiast using tools such as LinkedIN and Twitter to help educate the importance of effective hand hygiene and skin care to a global audience. To connect with Patrick, please contact him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.