Clean hands are your best defense against the spread of infection. Good hand hygiene helps protect you as well as co-workers and patients from possible spread of infectious agents.
In a healthcare workplace, good hand hygiene is important in stopping outbreaks of illness and transmission of antibiotic-resistant organisms. Hand washing even slows the spread of ordinary illnesses such as colds, the flu and gastrointestinal upsets. Regular hand washing is also important in preventing harm from chemicals and other contaminants in the workplace.
It’s easy to see the reasons for good hand hygiene when working directly with patients or in labs. Keeping your hands clean is also important in any job in a healthcare facility. In food service, hand hygiene helps keep the food from becoming contaminated. It also protects the worker from exposure to foodborne illness and toxins. In housekeeping and engineering, hand hygiene helps reduce exposures to disease-causing micro-organisms, chemicals and other harmful substances.
Here are just some of the work and personal situations throughout a healthcare facility that call for hand cleansing:
After touching objects likely to be contaminated with micro-organisms, such as instruments or bedding
After handling uncooked foods such as raw meat
After handling human or animal waste
After handling garbage
After handling housecleaning tools
Before eating or preparing food
After handling shared magazines and newspapers in the break room
After using another worker’s keyboard, telephone or hand tools
After using the toilet
After blowing your nose, or coughing or sneezing
Before handling your contact lenses
Plain soap and warm water is good enough for most hand washing, providing it is done properly. Here is a reminder of how to wash your hands effectively:
Remove watches, bracelets and rings.
Get your hands and arms wet under a stream of warm water.
Reach for the cleanser, which might be liquid in a dispenser or a bar of soap.
Lather thoroughly, away from the stream of water so the cleanser is not washed down the drain yet.
Rub your hands together vigorously for at least 15 seconds.
Scrub your wrists, the front and back of your hands and your fingers. Clean under your fingernails.
Rinse well under warm running water.
Dry your hands completely on a one-use towel or under an air drier.
Good hand hygiene is more than just a quick rinse. It takes 15 seconds and some effort to achieve clean hands.
Healthcare staff who work directly with patients are making increasing use of alcohol hand rubs. Washing often enough with soap and water – between patients and procedures – is not always convenient or practical.
These alcohol hand wipes are also more effective than washing to reduce bacteria on the hands. They also cause less skin irritation and dryness than does soap-and-water cleansing.
The use of gloves does not eliminate the need for hand cleansing, and hand cleansing does not eliminate the need for gloves.