Beyond a Pandemic: The Importance of Hand Hygiene
As we recognize World Hand Hygiene Day on May 5th, it’s important to remember the crucial role of clean hands in promoting public health and preventing the spread of disease
Global pandemics change the course of history. They influence how the world’s citizens, including its newest generation, relate to public health and cleanliness. For the past two years, we’ve been exposed to practices, guidance and even limitations that have changed the way we gather with family, communicate with colleagues, travel, dine and more. Some, like wearing masks, may have been foreign or unfamiliar. While others, like washing our hands, took on new significance.
As we reflect on what the pandemic has changed, the role of hand hygiene will remain front and center. Because as we return to the places we enjoy, with the people we love, our commitment to good hand hygiene is as important as ever. By consistently washing and sanitizing our hands, we can keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safer and healthier.
In hospitals and healthcare environments, good hand hygiene practice has long been fundamental to patient safety through the prevention of infections. In fact, this year’s World Hand Hygiene Day theme – Unite for Safety. Clean Your Hands – highlights healthcare workers’ ongoing discipline and commitment to hand hygiene. However, the experience of the pandemic substantially elevated the importance and discipline of hand hygiene in non-healthcare settings as well.
Across restaurants, grocery stores, hotels and shopping malls, proper hand hygiene has been essential for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and will remain an important function of improving guest satisfaction, food safety and public health outcomes for consumers across a wide range of industries going forward. In fact, customers have come to expect a higher level of hand hygiene in the businesses they visit. In a March 2022 survey conducted by Ecolab, 77% of customers want all businesses to continue making hand sanitizer available to guests going forward.1
So, what’s the best way to make clean hands an integral part of operations in any industry? Make it easy—for both employees and guests.
Build a positive experience
Make hand hygiene a healthy habit for both employees and guests by ensuring the use of high-quality products that are both effective at killing germs and easy on skin, producing an overall pleasant experience.
Some soaps and sanitizers might kill pathogens, but can result in dry or irritated skin after repeated use. It's also important to not prioritize aesthetics or scents. A soap that smells nice can be an added value but is not nearly as important as killing germs and maintaining the health of your skin.
Make products accessible
Hand hygiene products should be readily available by identifying the key locations where products should be accessible including entrances and exits, reception or check-out desks, washrooms and food serving areas.
It is also important to have an adequate supply of the right products in the most important spaces. Washrooms and food preparation areas should have access to antibacterial soap and water while entrances should be supplied with hand sanitizer. These products should be prominently displayed and clearly visible to promote usage.
Commit to training
Any effective, sustainable hand hygiene program needs to properly train staff on how and when to use the right products, as well as provide guidance for guests. Businesses should help make proper hand hygiene habitual at key moments, such as when changing environments or touching communal surfaces or objects.
Regular communication about these moments, and even basic handwashing procedures, can help keep hand hygiene top of mind.
If it all seems too easy, remember that’s the point.
As World Hand Hygiene Day reminds us, the very simple act of washing our hands can have a big impact on improving public safety and reducing the spread of disease. As we continue returning to the places we enjoy, let’s remember this simple, but powerful lesson of the global pandemic.
1 Source: “Consumer Sentiment Study;” March 15th, 2022 (paid for by Ecolab).
Ecolab Hand Hygiene Resources