Why it’s important not to be complacent about hand hygiene

We’ve outlined the continuing importance of handwashing and hand sanitising to help prevent further Covid-19 breakouts as we focus on the vaccine rollout.

With the vaccine rollout continuing apace across the UK and lockdowns gradually easing, it is understandable that people may pay less attention to hand hygiene. But this would be a mistake.

This blog outlines the continuing importance of handwashing and hand sanitising to help prevent further Covid-19 breakouts and the spread of other infectious illnesses.

Surgeons cleaning hands

In March 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the UK does not know “exactly how strong” its defences against another wave of Covid will be.

Because cases are still rising in Europe, people “must proceed with caution” as lockdown eases, he said. He warned more deaths, infections and hospitalisations were inevitable.

The prime minister added: “That’s why I stress the importance of everybody maintaining the discipline people have shown for so long.”

This is sound advice and must be adhered to by business owners to protect their workforces, customers and visitors to their premises – and ultimately, the viability of their operations.

Why is it important to remain vigilant about hand hygiene?

At the outset of the Covid pandemic in early 2020, governments worldwide were quick to issue public health advice about the importance of hand hygiene. The NHS guidance is that people must wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and suggest singing Happy Birthday twice to help pass the correct amount of time.

The reason: “Washing your hands properly removes dirt, viruses and bacteria to stop them spreading to other people and objects, which can spread illnesses such as food poisoning, flu and diarrhoea.” And, of course, the potentially deadly Covid virus.

While the various Covid vaccines are said to be highly effective in reducing the severity of the illness, they do not necessarily prevent the spread of the disease. This is why handwashing and hand sanitising remain critically important.

With social distancing measures in place, why do I need to be concerned about hand sanitising?

Businesses across all industry sectors have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds putting in place social distancing measures.

These include:

  • creating and staggering shift start and end times
  • reducing the number of workers per shift if possible, thereby reducing productivity and profits
  • creating a break between shifts
  • providing screens between workstations
  • setting up hand sanitising stations
  • providing protective visors and masks.

Even with these measures in place, and with the majority of UK adults vaccinated by the end of May, it is vital that operators of any type of venue where people congregate – be it an office or factory, or for leisure, travel, religion, entertainment, education or healthcare – continue to enforce Covid-security.

Businesswoman in office wearing mask

As part of this, the continuation of hand hygiene is vital. Even if people are socially distanced by the recommended two metres, they may inadvertently come into contact with one another or touch contaminated surfaces. In this way, all manner of bacteria can spread, potentially causing sickness and absence from work – or in the worst cases, death.

This is why managers of all types of venue must continue to enforce the message that hand hygiene is essential. They must establish a hand hygiene culture by providing adequate handwashing facilities, and where this is not possible hand sanitiser stations.

So, even with social distancing in place, it is crucial to discourage workers from using colleagues’ phones, desks, work tools, and other equipment. It is also a good idea to implement regular deep cleaning, provide anti-bacterial wipes, personal hand sanitiser devices, and 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.

What does this mean for my employees and customers?

In short, it means you are doing everything you can to reduce the chances they catch infectious diseases.

Employees will be less likely to become ill and take sick leave, with the financial consequences of statutory sick pay – which if less than their regular wage will likely adversely impact their finances and even their mental wellbeing, especially if they have dependents.

People in good health are generally happier in their work and will be more productive, which will give them a greater sense of work satisfaction.

For employees, incorporating the habit of hand hygiene into their work routine will help give them a sense of ‘health security’. There are some wearable hand sanitiser products on the market that are designed to be habit-forming. This means they are with people wherever they go, are easily accessible and will not impact the need to set aside time to wash their hands regularly.

Customers and visitors to your venue will be more likely to return if they see that you are going out of your way to stress the importance of hand hygiene in fighting against Covid and other bacterial infections.

How hand hygiene rules could impact my organisation’s reputation

Keeping up high standards of hand hygiene and ensuring you communicate this internally to your staff and externally to customers will boost your reputation. And businesses with a good reputation tend to outperform rivals.

Quite a few businesses ran into problems when coronavirus spread quickly among their staff, resulting in staff absences and all manner of other issues. There is a lot at stake for companies that do not ensure high compliance rates with hand hygiene protocols. The food industry certainly has many problems that need to be addressed.

The key to creating and retaining an excellent reputation is authenticity. In the case of hand hygiene and health and safety at work, you must instil a culture of compliance in line with HSE’s standards and your industry’s regulators.

Woman doing food shop with mask and gloves on

If you are seen by your stakeholders – effectively anyone that comes into contact with your business or could influence its success – as a reliable and trustworthy organisation, then you will be well placed to establish a good reputation.

Reputation gauges the degree of trust that consumers, clients, the marketplace, and the industry as a whole have in your brand. A good reputation will help you drive sales and profits, facilitate growth and ensure stakeholder support in a time of crisis.

How would my business be affected?

Having discussed the importance of continuing the habit of hand hygiene, even in the wake of the vaccine rollout, it’s essential to understand how this will affect your business.

It may feel like an additional burden and that you are nagging people who may well feel jaded by all the messaging, but it could have a material effect on your business’s success.

If you are in the food manufacturing sector, for example, where the opportunity for contamination is already rife, then continuing to hammer home the importance of hand hygiene is an absolute must.

For instance, a meat processing site owned by Asda in West Yorkshire had to close down for a week in June last year after about 150 workers fell ill with the virus. This followed the closure for 14 days of the UK’s leading supplier of supermarket chicken, 2 Sisters Food Group, after 58 people tested positive and in Wrexham, 38 staff were found to be infected at Rowan Foods, which makes food for supermarkets across the UK.

The closures will have cost the companies both financially and reputationally.

The same goes for businesses and organisations operating across all sectors. Hand hygiene remains the biggest defence against the spread of infectious diseases. Covid is here to stay, along with other contagious diseases, and it is only a matter of time until the world has to confront another viral pandemic.

As the World Health Organisation put it: Handwashing can’t stop: millions of lives are at stake.

It follows that business owners should heed this advice, or the success of their businesses may also be at stake.

Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help you create a culture of hand hygiene in your workplace.