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Institutional Hand Hygiene Reduce Illness & Absenteeism at Workplace

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Hand hygiene is one of the most important elements to control infection and its spread across institutional settings, such as food, hospitality, academic centres, and mainly hospitals and healthcare segments. Improved hand hygiene has the potential to reduce morbidity and mortality from infections, spread by faecal-oral routes and person-to-person contact.

Even though the requirement for hand washing/sanitization is universal, each workplace setting requires a unique approach to accomplish effectiveness out of this practice.

The hospital staff touch a lot of items during the day, so being diligent about hand hygiene is critical. On an average, the nursing staff touch up to 15 different surfaces during a single patient interaction. Every one of those surfaces has germs on it, so it makes sense that cleaning hands along with correct usage of PPEs, such as gloves between patients to control hospital associated infections.

World Health Organization (WHO) has laid down guidelines on hand hygiene in health care support, ‘Hand Hygiene Promotion and Improvement in Health-care Facilities’, which is complemented by the ‘WHO Multimodal Hand Hygiene Improvement Strategy’, that includes an implementation toolkit containing many ready-to-use practical tools.

 Again, correctly washing hands across different segments of food businesses, mainly the commercial kitchens of hotels, restaurants, meat and dairy industry require stringent measures to minimise the risk of foodborne illness associated with their activities. Thorough hand washing physically removes dirt, food waste, grease and harmful bacteria and viruses from the hands. Besides routine hand washing facilities, special hand washing facilities are fitted with non-hand operated taps after handling high-risk food items e.g. abattoirs, butchering areas, meat, fish, eggs and poultry products.

Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has put out several detailed documents, videos and pictorial booklets for the benefit of food business operators at various levels to follow ‘Safe Good Handling & Hygiene and Safety Practices for Food Handlers’.

 Hand Hygiene practices in children and at academic centres goes a long way in reducing morbidity and mortality rates as well as absenteeism. School going children are spending significant amounts of time in school and they are in close contact with each other, sharing school materials right from chairs to the desk, to crayons, to germs. Therefore, hand washing is an effective way to prevent the spread of common school illnesses like cold, pinkeye, flu, and those associated with enteric infections, such as diarrhoea and dysentery.

 Despite increasing awareness of the importance of hand washing and a range of other hygiene behaviours, many still become sick in the workplace/offices, where viruses and bacteria can survive for hours to months on inanimate surfaces. Researchers swabbing 4,800 surfaces in office buildings found ‘‘officially dirty’’ readings were highest on break room sink faucet handles (75% incidence of being dirty), microwave door handles (48% incidence of being dirty), computer keyboards (27% incidence of being dirty), and refrigerator door handles (26% incidence of being dirty).

As per UNICEF data, hand hygiene reduces annual deaths from respiratory diseases by 21%; halves the incidence of COVID-19, reduces annual deaths from diarrhoeal diseases by 30%, reduces healthcare facility infections by 50% and generates $15 in economic returns for each dollar invested.

Institutions can assure hand hygiene by providing the right infrastructure, hold regular sessions on awareness & training, have monitoring program to ensure implementation and use products with proven efficacy against the target germs.

Compiled by Dr Sandhya Shrivastava,
Director, Bhavan’s Research Center

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