Hand hygiene top concern when returning to work, survey finds

Key high-contact surfaces to be mindful of on the daily commute or when back in the office.

Returning to work means coming into contact with more high-contact touch points both in the office and enroute to work.

According to a survey of 32,000 employed adults, half of workers aren’t looking forward to returning to the office and two-thirds say they won’t feel safe being back in the workplace1.

For workers who feel neutral or negative about returning to work, infection remains workers’ top concern as they come back to their place of work.

Just 37 per cent of those surveyed said they would feel safe travelling to the workplace, which underscores the need for employers to embrace clear prevention strategies to protect their people and the public.

Hand hygiene is a major part of that concern. Clean hands are more important than ever, especially now as we return to using collective spaces, such as the office or public transport.

A quick rinse and wipe down simply isn’t enough, with leading health organisations stipulating you must wash your hands frequently with water and soap for at least 20 seconds – as well as dry your hands properly

“However, not many people are aware that damp hands can transfer up to 1,000 times more bacteria than dry hands,” explains Dr. Salomé Giao, Senior Scientist at Dyson.

“So, when thinking about hand hygiene, every step of the process is essential. From washing hands thoroughly to remove microorganisms from the skin, to drying them well. The reason for this is that dry hands help prevent the transfer of bacteria. Not all bacterium is harmful, but some can cause disease which is why good hand hygiene is important”.

“Bacteria and viruses deposited onto surfaces can survive for several hours and when these contaminated surfaces are touched, they can be transferred. Washing and drying your hands frequently will minimise the transfer of bacteria and viruses,” she adds.

So with that in mind, here are some key high-contact surfaces to be mindful of on the daily commute or when back in the office – where regular hand washing afterwards is most advised.

1. Ticket machines for public transport

Whilst the majority of travellers use contactless payment, or buy online before departure, many people still use ticket machines each day.

Particularly at peak times, these are high contact touch points and travellers should consider using an anti-bacterial and antiviral hand gel afterwards as a stop-gap before being able to wash and dry hands properly.

Don’t forget that if people have hands which are soiled, gels are ineffective. If your hands are visibly dirty, use a hand wipe first to remove that soil, and an antibacterial and antiviral gel to disinfect hands afterwards if you’re on the move.

2. Handles on public transport

The “dirtiness” of a surface depends on what it is made of. Porous surfaces, like foam grips and cloth seats hold the most bacteria between their tiny fibres and can collect microbes more efficiently than something solid like a metal pole. However, bacteria and viruses are more likely to transfer from the pole to hands, and thus more likely to enter the body and cause infection. Avoid unnecessary contact with these surfaces and consider sitting where possible, using a mask if you are unable to practice social distancing.

3. Elevator buttons

In a busy building, the elevator is used by hundreds of people who will have come into contact with all kinds of bacteria every hour. Do your best to avoid crowded elevators.

“Even if the elevator is cleaned regularly, the potential for bacteria build up is high, so remember, to not touch your face until you are able to wash your hands properly,” recommends Dr. Giao.

4. Computer keyboard

In the era of ‘hot desking’ it is even more important to keep high contact surfaces clean. Multiple people using that surface throughout the day means that it becomes a hot bed for germs.

Ideally hot desking should be avoided, or at least ensure that the same person stays there all day. For those who hot desk, paying attention to hand hygiene and employing good washing practices can make a significant difference when it comes to the spread of common illnesses and other viruses. Ensure that the keyboard, desk and chair are cleaned between users.

Having antibacterial wipes in dispensers close to desks can help encourage more frequent sanitisation, but it is important to avoid cross contamination and not use the same cloth across multiple surfaces.

“Particularly if you’re hot desking, don’t forget to disinfect any chair levers and handles too. When working in a new space, we often use them to adjust our seating, but its commonly overlooked when cleaning,” highlights Dr. Giao.

5. Your re-useable cup

We’re all conscious about ways to reduce our plastic consumption and bringing in your own cup to the office is an easy win. Be cautious when you’re refiling bottles and cups to ensure that where you drink from does not touch the drink dispenser, as this could lead to cross contamination.

“Clean your cup with hot water and soap regularly, as well as drying it thoroughly afterwards with a clean cloth. Avoid using kitchen towels which hang around the kitchen as they are often damp, which could re-contaminate the cup,” recommends Dr. Giao.

6. Kitchen towels in shared kitchenettes 

Bacteria thrives in warm, damp conditions. With everyone in the office sharing the same towel, these can be breeding ground for bacteria.

“Particularly if these are left near a radiator, the towel becomes damp and warm, providing fertile ground for proliferation of bacteria,” says Dr. Giao.

Use your own kitchen towel where possible and ensure it dries quickly. Hand sanitisers after a thorough hand washing routine is a good way to minimise further bacterial spread too, especially if kitchen towels are not changed regularly.

7. Old hand dryer buttons

“Door handles, light switches and elevator buttons have become focus points of disinfection, particularly in the current climate,” notes Dr. Giao, “but there are other buttons that can be overlooked.”

Office washrooms can be busy areas with great potential for cross-contamination, particularly where people may not wash their hands thoroughly. Not all hand dryers are touch-free and will require frequent cleaning.

1 Culture Amp research surveyed 32,000 workers about their readiness to return to the workplace

This article first appeared on INCLEAN Australia 

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