“Employees Must Wash Hands”: How Non-Healthcare Industries Tackle Hand Hygiene

Updated: Oct 31, 2018

You’ve heard the disheartening statistic: The hand hygiene compliance rate at US hospitals hovers around 40%. Not surprisingly, hospital-acquired infections plague some 650,000 American patients annually.

Unfortunately, infections spread by poor hand hygiene aren’t exclusive to healthcare. Unclean hands—and the resulting infections—are a problem in many different industries.

Here’s how 3 of the biggest industry offenders have worked to improve hand hygiene and reduce the spread of infection.

1. The Food Industry

At A Glance: The Scope Of The Problem

  • Every year, about 48 million Americans contract a food-borne illness. Roughly 128,000 are hospitalized, and about 3,000 die.

  • There are more than 250 different types of foodborne illness.

  • These illnesses also take a toll on the US economy—to the tune of $77.7 billion annually.  

How Infections Are Passed

Of course, food can become contaminated in many ways. For example, fruits and vegetables can pick up a myriad of germs if washed with unclean water, while shellfish can become contaminated by human sewage dumped in the sea.

But as with the healthcare industry, unwashed hands are a major vector for illness in the food service industry—and a serious concern for managers.

Unfortunately, restaurant employees are even less compliant with hand hygiene protocols than healthcare workers. Restaurant employee compliance rates are estimated to be as low as 27%.

How The Industry Tackles The Problem

Avoiding Hand Sanitizer:

While sanitizing gels are approved for hand hygiene in healthcare, they are not approved for restaurant employees. As infection control specialists know, when hands are wet, gels are not effective. Since restaurant employees often have wet hands from food preparation or dishwashing, gels aren’t the right solution for them.

Restaurant managers tell their workers to stick with soap, hot water, and correct handwashing protocols.

Changing The Food Handling Process:

As with healthcare, too many required handwashings can deter restaurant employees from complying.

The Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net) recommends that restaurants restructure food preparation processes to reduce the amount of times employees are required to wash their hands (e.g., lower the number of times a sandwich-maker has to touch raw meat).

Posting Those Handy Signs

Common foodborne infections like norovirus or E. coli can be passed easily when infected individuals have a bowel movement, do not adequately wash their hands, and end up transferring particles from their stool into the food.

2. The School And Daycare Industry

At A Glance: The Scope Of The Problem

  • Children cared for at an early childhood center, rather than in their homes, are 2 to 3 times more likely to contract an infection.

  • Every year, infectious diseases cause millions of lost school days—with nearly 22 million of those due solely to the common cold.

  • Lost school days due to infectious disease are costly. They result in the administration paying substitute teachers, students missing classes and extracurriculars, and teachers spending extra time teaching students who were absent.

How Infections Are Passed

Anywhere you look in a school or daycare center, you’ll find germs lurking. Between bathroom doors, lunch trays, desktops, toys, playground equipment, and drinking fountains, you cannot escape the hotbed of germs.

Early childcare centers come with even more opportunities for spreading germs, with employees changing diapers and young kids wiping their noses with their bare hands.

Just as in other industries, handwashing is one of the best ways to combat the spread of germs and the resulting infections. But just as in other industries, compliance can be a challenge.

One study showed early childcare center employees had a 22% compliance rate with handwashing protocols. And it’s almost impossible to get all students in a school to wash their hands as often as they should.

How The Industry Tackles The Problem

It’s A SNAP!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Cleaning Institute created a joint initiative called the Healthy Schools, Healthy People, It’s a SNAP! (School Network for Absenteeism Prevention). The program encourages teachers to have their students create their own clean hands awareness project, campaign, or activity.

Successful classrooms can earn certificates of recognition, and winning schools receive a cash reward. Winning projects have included comedic skits from drama clubs, regular social media blasts, and messages painted on bathroom mirrors.

The projects have been successful—one winning school saw handwashing compliance shoot above 90%, while another decreased absenteeism by 50% in the year following the implementation of their program.

Procedures And Standards:

Many daycare centers have emphasized the importance of meeting health or hygiene standards—especially when accreditation is involved. As parents search for daycare programs for their children, one of the factors they consider is reputation, which means that national accreditations can go a long way in boosting enrollment.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) provides accreditation to centers who have met 10 program standards. Since one of the standards is health, NAEYC looks for programs that have policies regarding regular handwashing.

Kid-Friendly Campaigns

Dozens of kid-friendly lesson plans, posters, and classroom ideas are available for teachers to use, free of charge.

Some teachers turn to games, like Sink Those Germs: Wash Your Hands!,where children “sink” germs by tossing bean bag “germs” into a container. Each bag represents a time they should be washing their hands, like after using the bathroom, or before eating lunch.

Teachers also read children’s books to their students. Stories like “Germs Make Me Sick,” “Buddy Bear’s Hand Washing Troubles,” and “Your Skin and Mine” teach children about the dangers of germs and the importance of handwashing.

3. The Cosmetology Industry

At A Glance: The Scope Of The Problem

  • Nail technicians can be exposed to fungal infections and infectious diseases like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) on a daily basis.

  • Nail technicians can spread these infections and diseases to their clients.

  • Massage therapists are at risk for contracting fungal infections from skin-to-skin contact with infected clients.

How Infections Are Passed

When there is media coverage about infections in salons and spas, it tends to focus on unsanitary conditions (e.g., foot baths are not cleaned out properly, nail clippers are not disinfected).

However, improper handwashing plays a large role in the transmission of infections in salons and spas.

The issue often stems from the large amount of skin-to-skin contact. In both nail salons and spas, a client may come in with an infection. As a nail technician or masseuse touches the client’s skin or nails, he can become exposed to the infection. If he does not properly wash his hands, he can then spread the infection onto future clients.

How The Industry Tackles The Problem

Strict Salon Regulations:

Because of the potential for spreading disease, nail salons take cleanliness and hygiene seriously. Manicurists and pedicurists are instructed to wash hands before eating, drinking, smoking, or applying cosmetics, as per the Occupational Health and Safety

Administration’s guidelines:

Some states have established their own standards for hygiene procedures in nail salons:

  • Oregon: Nail technicians are required to wash with soap and water, clean and disinfect all tools approved for reuse, and dispose of tools that have not been approved for reuse.

  • Massachusetts: All salons must have a handwashing facility located in or adjacent to the salon. There must also be another sink besides the one in the bathroom. Everyone who comes in contact with clients must wash hands with hot water and hospital-grade antibacterial soap before and after providing any service.

  • Minnesota: Before providing any service, nail technicians must wash hands with soap and water, and dry them with either an air dryer, or with a single-service towel. Alcohol-based hand rubs (minimum 60% alcohol) can be used instead of handwashing when hands are not visibly soiled, and are free of lotions, products, or ointments.

Taking A Stand With Standards:

Massage schools across the country have stepped up to address hand hygiene by including hygiene in their curriculum. Some schools offer courses in infection control, anatomy, and pathology that are designed to improve hygiene.

Prominent massage therapy organizations like the American Massage Therapy Association have also taken a stand, calling for massage therapists to adhere to universal precautions—an approach to infection control to treat all human blood as though it is known to be infected with bloodborne pathogens.

Have questions about how Vitalacy can help you improve hand hygiene at your facility? Contact us at (310) 745-5050 or info@vitalacy.com.

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