Do you sanitise your hands regularly? In some jobs, hand hygiene is absolutely essential, and can even mean the difference between life and death – in hospitals, for example, it’s crucial to avoid spreading dangerous illnesses to patients, many of whom are already in a weakened state and may also have open wounds. In the food industry, spreading bugs to customers can have serious consequences for their health and for the business, leading to health inspections and fines.

But hand hygiene has an important place in any workplace, and in our personal lives too. Many illnesses, including the cold and flu, are caught and spread via your hands, and you can pick them up from surfaces as well as directly from other people. This has a huge economic impact as well as making us miserable for days at a time – minor illnesses including cold and the more serious flu cost an estimated 34 million working days in 2016. Flu can even be deadly for vulnerable people, including the old, the very young, and those with health conditions. For most of us, it puts us out of action for up to a week or more.

Occasionally, a more dangerous flu strain emerges. In 2009, Swine Flu killed 457 people in the UK and cost the country £1.2bn. A study afterwards suggests that, although most were asymptomatic, a staggering 44% of the country could’ve been infected. Back in 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic killed up to 100 million people. Healthcare today might be much more advanced, but there is little that can be done to prevent the spread of, and treat, a new strain of flu.

Despite the fact flu is very disruptive, over 50% of people surveyed said they would go into work with the flu and, worryingly, 25% said only hospitalisation would stop them. While it’s true people often confuse the common cold with the flu, which has some similar symptoms but is more serious, this nonetheless contributes to the massive loss of productivity and absenteeism which can ravage workplaces in winter. This cannot be blamed only on employees, as for one, inflexible and unsympathetic policies can leave employees unwilling to stay at home. Furthermore people can be infectious without realising they’re ill or before their condition worsens, and even when they’re starting to feel better and return to work.

How can you stop the spread of cold and flu?

The only way to protect employees from contracting infectious illnesses from their colleagues at work is to ensure employees understand the need for hand and surface hygiene and give them the right tools. This applies to anywhere, whether it’s an office or a coffee shop. Any equipment which is used by multiple people, which can include telephones, computer keyboards and desks, should be cleaned with disinfectant regularly. But to be safe, if you’re using something immediately after someone, especially if they could be ill, you should sanitise your hands afterwards!

The most important times to wash or sanitise your hands include:
  • After sneezing (you should sneeze into a tissue and bin it whenever possible!)
  • After using the toilet
  • Before handling food and before eating
  • After touching animals
  • After coughing
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After handling rubbish
  • After touching a sick person

As well as following these rules at work, people should obviously pay attention to hand hygiene outside of work too! The commute can be a particularly risky time for contracting illnesses. A 2016 study in London which swabbed buses, taxis and London Underground trains found 121 strains of bacteria and mould, including illness-causing bacteria of various severities and even antibiotic resistant ‘superbugs’ – some of which can be deadly. If you’re a Londoner, you probably won’t be thrilled to discover that poles on tube trains are only wiped down every 2 – 3 days and seats on 7 lines are never chemically cleaned. Perhaps it’s a good idea to sanitise your hands once you reach your destination?

What can you use?

Most hand sanitisers are alcohol-based, though alcohol-free options are available if preferred. Generally, sanitisers kill 99.9% of bacteria and many are also effective against viruses and fungal spores. Hand sanitiser can be used without water and as a substitute for soap and water for unsoiled hands. Most hand sanitisers include moisturisers to help avoid dermatitis with repeated use. We have a range of hand sanitiser in pump bottles, wall-mounted dispensers and pocket-sized bottles, including HypaClean and Clinell products.

For some tasks however it’s best to avoid contact with your skin altogether. These might include cleaning up human waste, treating wounds, disposing of needles and handling rubbish. For these purposes, disposable gloves are ideal. These come in various sizes, colours and materials – we sell disposable gloves in Latex, Vinyl and Nitrile. Some people are allergic to Latex so if you’re buying gloves for widespread use, or in situations where the wearer is likely to touch other people or their food, it’s safer to use Vinyl or Nitrile gloves. These gloves can be bought individually but are commonly sold in large packs, as they’re intended to be discarded after a single use.

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