How to create a culture of hand hygiene in your workplace

Hand hygiene is essential to empowering staff to reduce the spread of coronavirus and other infections.

Employers must provide a safe and healthy environment for their staff to attract and retain the best talent, boost productivity and ensure financial success.

In the wake of the global pandemic, it has become intensely apparent that organisations need to have facilities for employees to sanitise their hands safely and adequately to prevent or reduce the spread of COVID-19.

We’ve learned at significant cost that coronaviruses spread incredibly quickly through airborne respiratory droplets and via contaminated surfaces. Frequent and thorough handwashing with soap and water is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and is the first line of defence against COVID-19. But, while the provision of such facilities may sound straightforward, it is worrying to learn that there are tens of thousands of workplaces in the UK that fall far short of the hand sanitising standards needed to create a safe and productive space for staff.

Person washing hands

In this blog, we will investigate the problems that employers encounter regarding implementing effective hand sanitising facilities and how to overcome them.

Why is hand hygiene at work so important?

Safe and healthy working conditions are fundamental to the ability of people to be productive. Productivity means many things, covering both quantitative and qualitative outputs and outcomes. Whatever line of business you are in – whether that be within the public or private sector – the establishment of healthy, sustainable and growing productivity can only be achieved by healthy and happy employees.

COVID-19 brought into sharp focus the deadly consequences of poor hand hygiene. Governments around the globe were quick to issue public health statements to reduce the spread of the virus.

The UK government reiterated its handwashing and hand sanitisation guidance in September on the basis that coronavirus can survive for up to 24 hours in indoor environments.

There were many instances of companies running into serious problems when the virus spread quickly in workplaces, resulting in staff absences and all manner of other issues. The food manufacturing industry was particularly hard-hit. There is a lot at stake for companies that do not ensure high rates of compliance with hand hygiene protocols. The food industry certainly has many issues that need to be addressed.

Workplace in coronavirus times

Indeed, there are serious hand hygiene hurdles that must be cleared for any workplace where workers are in close proximity during work hours, shift changes, queuing to use washroom facilities and break times.

The worst-case scenario for business owners is that word gets out about high infection rates – and even deaths – and they are forced to close down until the Health & Safety Executive deems that sufficient steps have been taken to ensure a healthy working environment.

Businesses that do get closed down, temporarily or permanently, may experience severe and possibly irreparable damage to their reputation. Not to mention the financial hit.

What are the main blockers to the provision of adequate hand cleansing regimes?

Unfortunately, there are many instances where frequent hand washing is not possible.

These include situations where there are infrequent breaks, unhygienic washrooms, inadequate soap supplies and drying facilities and a lack of hand sanitiser stations.

Factory workers have pointed to bottlenecks in toilets and washrooms, overcrowded locker-rooms, where workers pile in before and after work, and the canteens, where they gather to eat. The most significant risks are during long shifts on the factory floor where colleagues may be far less than the recommended two metres apart from colleagues on the production line.

In many instances, the reasons behind poor hand sanitising opportunities are cost-based. Now that COVID-19 is with us for the long term, together with many other harmful viruses, managers and business owners need to figure out ways of accommodating these costs in their business plans.

Another blocker to creating a culture of hand hygiene in the workplace is finding a way to enforce it.

Instilling a regular and thorough handwashing culture requires a measure of organisational or administrative control involving a change in work policy or procedures. To be effective, it should form part of the HR function and must be signed off by management and then effectively communicated to all staff.

To achieve this kind of change requires time and a financial commitment, as it may be necessary to hire someone to own this role.

It also requires employee buy-in. The quality of an organisation’s internal communications will be pivotal to the success of any campaign to change employee behaviour. Managers and business owners will need to demonstrate their ongoing commitment to the health of their staff. In the context of improving hand hygiene, they must ensure that all employees are aware of any enhanced wellbeing scheme that is being put in place and the benefits it will bring.

Washroom facilities

The first step is to ensure adequate washroom facilities for the number of staff using them. This is a legal requirement.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 cover the supply of toilets and washing facilities for staff. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a code of practice based on the law that explains the full requirements.

The law states that toilets and washing facilities must be adequate. Because the word “adequate” is open to interpretation, the HSE clarifies what it means.

Ratio explaining staff to toilet ratio

Then there’s the consideration that has to be made about the number of toilets and basins provided per staff ratio. The regulations are there to prevent workers queuing for long periods to use toilets and washing facilities, often in close proximity to one another.

Providing hand sanitiser

In situations where it is impossible to provide adequate washroom facilities, with soap and hand drying facilities such as air dryers or paper towels, employers should provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing between 60 and 80 per cent alcohol. Non-alcohol versions are being worked on that are equally effective.

This may require the provision of hand sanitising stations, placing large hand sanitiser pumps at strategic entry and exit points.

Wearable hand sanitiser devices are the gold standard solution. These devices, such as the British designed Orbel hand sanitiser, easily clip on to a person’s clothing, pocket or belt, ensuring that hand sanitisation is never more than an arm’s length away.

Orbel reinforces hand hygiene habits via intuitive hand sanitisation movement and provides immediate access to compliance in a simple, easy and cost-effective manner. In turn, wearable hand sanitiser devices save lives through improved hand hygiene, reducing the spread of bacteria, viruses, and infection. Companies that invest in wearable hand sanitisers for their staff demonstrate to the public and their staff a commitment to corporate responsibility. They are doing their utmost to establish safer customer-employee relations without reducing productivity and reducing the spread of infections and consequential sickness absences.

This adds up to better employer-employee relations, improved reputation, less downtime and greater productivity.

Creating a culture of hand hygiene

We’ve covered what organisations need to do to ensure the safety of their staff. But getting them to comply with new guidance can be a challenge.

We have mentioned the importance of internal communications with all staff. We cannot stress strongly enough the increasing recognition by companies small and large that this is a business function that needs to improve.

But setting up effective internal comms strategies can take a lot of time. Here are some more immediate things you can do:

  1. Encourage people to cover up coughs and sneezes into their elbow, not by using their hands.
  2. Discourage workers from using colleagues’ phones, desks, work tools and any other equipment.
  3. Implement regular deep cleaning and communicate that you are doing this, perhaps by placing posters in prominent positions around the workplace.
  4. Provide anti-bacterial wipes to staff so that they can clean tools and equipment before and after use.
  5. In multi-cultural workplaces, where people speak different languages, ensure all methods of communication are adapted so that everyone is included in the messaging.
  6. Managers or someone in charge of creating and enforcing a hand hygiene culture should be regularly visible on the shop or factory floor to lead by example and provide help as needed.
  7. Ensure that you invest in high-quality training so that everyone understands what you are looking to achieve and the part they need to play to ensure colleagues and visitors’ safety and health.

Summary

Handwashing and sanitising is essential at the workplace, where large numbers of people often congregate in close quarters. Individuals may spend most of their waking hours at work, increasing the risk of infectious exposure, especially in high-density situations, not only from other workers but also from customers and clients.

Handwashing is especially important in situations where people are ill or vulnerable, such as in hospitals and care homes; in food processing and other manufacturing plants where it is challenging to enforce social distancing; and in any type of workplace situation where people come into contact with one another or may share desks or equipment.

In the case of the virus that causes COVID-19, as it is not yet possible to eliminate or substitute the hazard, handwashing and hand sanitising constitutes a measure of organisational or administrative control, involving a change in work policy or procedures, to reduce or minimise exposure to germs.

The promotion of a culture of frequent and thorough handwashing, including by providing workers, customers and worksite visitors with places to wash their hands, is therefore vital for all businesses and organisations looking to ramp up their activities as lockdown restrictions are eased.

In situations where it is difficult to increase bathroom facilities, it is critical to provide managers, staff and visitors with (preferably) wearable hand sanitisers. Forward-thinking businesses and organisations that take these steps will reassure staff and customers that they can remain safe and productive as everyone learns to live with Covid and the myriad of viruses we come into contact with every day.

Get in touch today to find out how to implement Orbel into your organisation to create a healthy hand hygiene culture.