Winter – that’s roast lunches by the open fire of a Sunday pub, snowball fights with the kids (if we’re lucky to have snow), and Christmas markets. Winter – that’s also the time of the year when many of us are especially susceptible to falling ill with colds or the flu – and, unfortunately, our workplaces are where the germs and bacteria responsible for these illnesses can spread with ease.
We use our hands to carry out most tasks during the working day. Because we do it so automatically, we almost forget what an important tool they are. Furthermore, 80% of all infections are transmitted by our hands.
The most effective way to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria: hand hygiene
That’s why hand hygiene in the workplace is so important. Handwashing with soap is widely seen as the most effective way to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria – and avoid infections. According to estimates, this practice could reduce the number of people catching colds by 45%.
If companies take hand hygiene seriously, they can go a long way towards avoiding the negative consequences of colds, such as decreased productivity and low staff morale, as well as the financial burden: sick leave due to colds is currently estimated to cost UK businesses £1.3 billion each year.
Employees and employers share the responsibility
Employees clearly have a responsibility when it comes to hand hygiene: everyone should make sure to keep their hands clean throughout the day, especially before and after eating, after coughing or sneezing or using the toilet. To effectively wash your hands, soap should be lathered and rubbed vigorously around the hands and wrists for at least 40-60 seconds.
But employers should play their part too. It’s their duty to make sure the right kind of products are available for their employees to use. If they go one step further – and implement a fully integrated skin care programme for their workplace – they will not only increase hand hygiene compliance, but take care of employee skin health in general.
Implementing a fully integrated skin care programme
A proven 3-step approach to such a skin care programme identifies three crucial moments for treatment of the skin: using appropriate hand cleansers throughout the working day, especially after potential contamination; sanitising where running water is not immediately accessible; and applying restorative cream at the end of the day.
Different working environments will have different product requirements. Generally speaking, cleansing products need to be effective, and supported with scientifically proven data where appropriate. It’s also important that they are gentle to the skin and pleasant to use. If soaps contain conditioners, they can help improve skin hydration and prevent drying of the skin.
Modern foam soap solutions require 36% less product for an effective hand wash compared with traditional liquid or lotion soaps. This makes them a cost effective choice, especially in environments where hand washing needs to be frequent if infections are to be avoided.
As important as hand washing: the use of sanitisers and restorative creams
Sanitisers should be used where access to running water is inconvenient. Easy and speedy to use, they kill germs, rather than physically remove them. When used frequently they can be less harmful to the skin than an equivalent number of hand washes. Modern sanitisers have been designed to kill 99.999% of common germs – making them a very effective means to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria in the workplace.
Restorative products are a crucial element of any skin care programme. Applied at the end of the day, they moisturise, nourish and condition the skin, improving its strength and preventing it from becoming dry or damaged. It’s easy to forget, or neglect, this part of a skin care programme, but it’s vital to keep the skin of employees healthy.
The right products, and the right equipment
Cleansers, sanitisers, and restorative products should always be sourced from reputable companies who offer advice and guidance on their use. By taking into account the potential hazards the skin might come into contact with, as well as the specific nature of the work, skin experts are able to suggest the right cleaners and creams.
The installation of specifically designed, sealed cartridge dispensers for use with soaps, skin cleaners and creams is strongly recommended. Such dispensers provide the most hygienic skin care system, by reducing to a minimum the risk of cross-infection that can occur if a number of people extract the product from an open or communal container. Dispensers also assure that the correct amount of product is used – minimizing waste and optimising the cost of use.
Companies should look for BioCote marked dispensers; a market leading antimicrobial technology supplier proven to achieve up to a 99.99% reduction in bacteria, mould and fungi over a 24 hour period. The presence of BioCote’s logo on dispensers reassures employees and customers that excellence in hand hygiene procedures is of paramount importance.
Customised dispensers as a branding opportunity – and a way to increase compliance
Modern dispensers can be fully customised, allowing companies to feature their own branding on the equipment, if they wish to do so. Bespoke dispensers allow customers to create washroom environments that provide the highest standards of hand hygiene – while looking aesthetically pleasant at the same time, with great opportunities for a company to promote a cohesive brand identity.
If products are available from easy-to-use, accessible dispensers, employees are much more inclined to wash their hands regularly and use the right restorative creams. Well-designed facilities are one of the best ways to encourage better hand hygiene compliance and improve skin health. If members of staff see others wash their hands or use creams regularly, they are more likely to do so themselves.
Staff education is crucial for a skin care programme to work
But it’s not enough to put the right products in the right places. The accessibility of soaps and creams can only go so far – if a skin care programme doesn’t include a dedicated programme of education and training. Employers need to make a real effort to inform their staff about the seriousness of occupational skin disease, and about the steps they can take to avoid being affected.
Compliance is crucial to the success of any skin care programme. To achieve this staff need to be aware of much more than the fact that skin care products are available. When should soap and water be used, when is a sanitiser more appropriate? What is the correct technique for either? What are the key moments during the day to re-apply a pre-work cream? What is the right amount of after-work cream to use?
Using supporting materials to turn skin care into an ongoing conversation
Hands-on training sessions, instructional multimedia programmes, and regular staff meetings can help to make sure that the effort to combat the threat of occupational skin disease is not just a one-off event that is quickly forgotten about – but an ongoing conversation.
Materials such as leaflets, posters, and information boards are widely available and help employers to increase awareness of hand hygiene compliance. Regular staff meetings are a good way to keep hand washing on everyone’s mind.
If leaflets and brochures are made available, employees can read up on the issue whenever they have questions or concerns, while safety signs and posters are a good way to keep up awareness on a day-to-day level. Supporting materials such as these are available from the Health and Safety Executive website, as well as from skin care manufacturers.
Working together to keep colds away – in the winter, and beyond
Informed by expert advice, a dedicated education and training programme is the best way to achieve a “buy in” from the workforce – something that is absolutely crucial for any skin care system to work properly.
If employers and employees work together, they can implement a skin care programme that will go a long way to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria, and avoid employees catching colds and the flu – not only in the winter months, but throughout the rest of the year.
 Source: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
 American Journal of Preventive Medicine
 Source: Royal Pharmaceutical Society, 2007
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