Hand hygiene

Hand hygiene

Tackling compliance in educational facilities

The winter months often come with a spike in cases of norovirus, sometimes known as the ‘winter vomiting bug’. With a number of recent outbreaks reported in schools and hospitals across the UK from Northern Ireland to Cornwall, how can campus estate managers and staff manage the spread of illness during the winter months, and help reduce it?

According to the BBC, a huge 90% of students during the first term at university experience cold-like symptoms known as ‘Freshers’ Flu’; a mixture of late nights, shared accommodation and the winter months can all be identified as contributors. Germ transfer hotspots include lecture theatres, shared resource centres, canteens, touchscreens and lift buttons – all commonly seen on campus. Washroom breaks, preparing and eating food, coughing or sneezing and handling rubbish are all identified as events which require handwashing both before and after to effectively minimise the spread of germs – but handwashing for the recommended time can be rarely seen. With the associated effects of widespread illness including absenteeism and thus an impact on learning progress, it is crucial that the spread of germs is minimised and that good handwashing habits are encouraged in educational facilities.

The situation

Hands are the main vehicle for germ transfer, either by person-to-person contact or by touching everyday surfaces. 1 in 5 people do not wash their hands when they visit the washroom, and of those that do, only 30% use soap, despite hand hygiene being by far the best method of infection prevention. Norovirus, for example, can survive outside the body for several days according to the NHS. Washing hands with soap and water is one of the simplest and easiest ways for students to protect themselves and others from a range of illnesses.

A recent study in the American Journal of Infection Control looked at the implications of poor hand hygiene by students and its link to absenteeism. They found that students in particular are at a high risk of spreading infectious disease due to the close proximity of accommodation and the many opportunities to interact with pathogens on campus. The researchers also found that student desktops are one of the dirtiest objects and when considering the widespread use of computers, iPads, and smartphones – the issue is significantly magnified.

The research showed that 58% of university students’ hands were colonised with all types of microbial contaminants, and that this was significantly linked to more occurrences of infectious diseases, absences, and medical visits. The researchers concluded: ‘It is critical to promote education on proper hand washing on campus and at home to improve health and learning outcomes.’

Hand hygiene

When it comes to best practice to help combat the ongoing issues around hand hygiene, a report, Too Clean or Not Too Clean?, published by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) last year illustrated the myths and facts around hygiene and the spread of germs in public and at home.

Changing perceptions around hygiene is a fundamental step in combatting the spread of infections - whilst there may be confusion about the relationship between cleanliness and hygiene in some arenas, in shared environments such as campuses it is vital that effective handwashing is seen as a matter of routine.

The recommendations of the report are a good example of best practice. Essentially, the RSPH report revealed that whilst the value of hygiene at a broad level is understood by the general public, there are key misconceptions and gaps in understanding that could seriously increase the risk of the spread of infections. By focussing on hygiene in the places and times that matter, for example washrooms, it is possible to break the chain of infection and at the same time stay exposed to the ‘good bacteria’ required for a healthy microbiome.

Raising awareness

Resources such as posters and activities can be effective on campus, spreading the message with statistics and facts. Even materials illustrating how to wash and dry the hands can be useful – damp hands spread 1000 times more bacteria than dry hands according to Connect Hygiene. However, it is within the facility itself where hand hygiene compliance can be most effectively targeted. Bespoke, colour-coded dispensers can help remind users of which product to use when, as well as being simple reminders to use soap for example. Sanitisers in key locations such as canteens and washrooms can also help to minimise the spread of germs, with effective sanitisers killing 99.999% of many common germs.

Campus estate managers should also look at the types of dispensers installed; hygiene compliance can be an irrelevant factor if the washroom itself is unhygienic. Bulk-filled, open soap systems are commonly seen in washrooms, but in reality they can present a serious hygiene problem. Airborne germs and bacteria can enter the soap reservoir, risking contamination – these dispensers are also often inadequately cleaned or refilled. According to a study by Chattman, Maxwell and Gerba, a huge 25% of refillable bulk soap dispensers are contaminated with unsafe levels of bacteria and can actually leave the hands with a shocking 25 times more bacteria after washing.

Sealed cartridge soap dispensers will bring maximum hygiene along with a measured dose of fresh product dispensed each time. The maintenance of washrooms has a significant impact on hand hygiene, and with a more readily replaceable cartridge, this is made easier and simpler for cleaning professionals. With cleaner and pleasant-to-use soap dispensers, users are far more likely to wash hands thoroughly.

Not only are soap cartridges more hygienic, when coupled with foam soaps, they are much more cost effective with savings on refill time and water use, as well as reducing product usage and packaging. SC Johnson Professional’s recent testing showed that their washroom foam soaps have been proven to wash away 99% of germs and dirt and, with the antimicrobial version, 99.99% of many common bacteria, yeast and viruses are killed.

Although the risks of inadequate hand hygiene are clear to most users, a clean washroom and availability of product is often the primary concern. It is clear that more could be done to really raise awareness of the associated risks; with an approach covering education, awareness and facilities, hand hygiene compliance can be effectively improved on campus. A lack of awareness and proper facilities are common factors, but the provision of quality, safe skin care products could have a huge impact on hand hygiene compliance rates, thus reducing the spread of infection and encouraging healthy, lifelong habits.

For more information on SC Johnson Professional’s products and resources for universities and campuses, head to www.scjp.com.