Hand washing is important for everyone as an aspect of good personal hygiene.
But extra special care with hand hygiene needs to be taken in some industries and settings. For example, poor hand hygiene by healthcare personnel or in a restaurant can end up affecting the health of many through potential transfer of pathogens from their surroundings to other people or to food. They also run the risk of transferring pathogens via their hands to other parts of their own body.
In Australia, hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are the most common complication for hospital patients. In December 2009, the Productivity Commission estimated that 180,000 HAIs occur annually, accounting for approximately two million hospital bed days. (Source 2) But some experts believe this to be an underestimation, putting the figure at 5-10% of all hospital admissions, or 300,000-600,000 HAIs a year. HAIs can result in death, cause personal suffering, and are costly to the healthcare system. (Source 3)
The importance of handwashing in clinical settings has long been established. But healthcare workers do not always wash their hands as often or as thoroughly as recommended. Reasons for this include skin irritation, lack of access to hand hygiene facilities, interference with patient-carer relationships, lower priority given to hand hygiene, wearing gloves, forgetfulness, time constraints and high workload. (Source 4) But the impact is clear. A recent example is a Milan clinic’s observed 30% reduction in HAIs by giving nurses who work with premature babies an annual bonus of when they wash their hands properly. (Source 5)
Poor hand hygiene also contributes to illness food-borne illness caused by the food service sector.
There are several different types of hand hygiene.
As well as being an important part of everyday personal hygiene, effective hand washing is especially important in the food service industry:
The active ingredient in hand sanitisers can be alcohol (ethanol or propanol), or antimicrobial agents such as chlorhexidine, benzalkonium chloride or triclosan. Hand sanitation is most commonly used in clinical settings, for which the World Health Organisation’s “5 Moments for Hand Hygiene” is shown below:
Because of the frequency of hand hygiene needed in these settings, it is not uncommon for healthcare workers’ hands to become dry, cracked and irritated. The incorporation of moisturising agents into hand wash products is becoming more common, or, alternatively, regular use of moisturisers can help maintain skin health.
Hand antisepsis is the most rigorous form of hand hygiene. This is necessary for surgical staff before performing sterile procedures.
I&I hand hygiene products range from guest soaps found in hotels across the country, to liquid or foam hand soaps for a range of settings, to antibacterial hand rubs, gels and foams.
In any situation where many people share the same hand hygiene product, use of a dispenser may be the most hygienic option. Many I&I hand hygiene products are available in touch-free dispensing systems.
Source 1: World Health Organisation 2009, “Hand Hygiene: Why, How & When?” www.who.int/gpsc/5may/Hand_Hygiene_Why_How_and_When_Brochure.pdf
Source 2: Public and Private Hospitals: Productivity Commission Research Report, December 2009, p. 123 www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/93030/hospitals-report
Source 3: Labi, S. July 11, 2010, "Are our hospitals spreading infection?", The Sunday Telegraph, http://article.wn.com/view/2010/07/10/Are_our_hospitals_spreading_infection/
Source 4: WHO 2009, WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care, p 67, http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2009/9789241597906_eng.pdf
Source 5: "Bonus for washed hands sees disease drop", December 2010, The Daily Telegraph, www.dailytelegraph.com.au/archive/world-old/bonus-for-washed-hands-sees-disease-drop/story-e6frev00-1225979180886