Washing our hands is one of those techniques you’d expect to be so ingrained in our daily life, that it needs no direction or inspection. After all, we use our hands for nearly every task we do. However, numerous studies have shown that we may not be as attentive to this essential hygiene method as we should. A study by cleaning company, SMC Premier, looked at the hygiene habits of office workers. It found that only 61% of those within the study washed their hands properly after going to the toilet. Other research from Water Aid found that as little as 19% of people globally used soap appropriately when washing their hands.
Handwashing techniques are put in place to maintain high levels of health and safety. They are essential in every environment, be that work or residential. And, for this reason, it is vital that we understand the best methods to remove bacteria, viruses and disease-causing contaminants.
Different types of microorganisms linked to hand washing
In 1938, a study established that the bacteria commonly found on hands can be divided into 2 categories – resident and transient.
Resident Microorganisms / Normal Flora
Resident microorganisms are seated within the epidermis and are not readily removed. They are unlikely to cause infections unless allowed access to the deeper tissue due to surgery or other invasive procedures. These bacteria are impacted and altered by a number of factors – namely diet, environment and hygiene habits.
These bacteria are found on the surface of the skin, amongst the outer layers. These are not part of the normal flora and usually only survive for a short period of time. They are evident as a result of contamination and can be removed easily through good hand washing techniques.
The variation of micro-organisms that fit within these two categories can range from benign through to pathogenic. The more dangerous of the two can be spread easily through contact – whether that be people-to-people from a surface to the hand. Contaminated items in a specified place increase the risk of infection, however good hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways to minimise this.
Handwashing techniques for health & safety
The right handwashing techniques depend largely on the task that is being undertaken. Identifying the most appropriate method ensures that adequate caution is taken to minimise the spread of infection, bacteria and other potentially harmful substances. These three techniques are:
1. Social Hand Hygiene-Routine Hand Washing
This is the most common form of handwashing. It requires you to use soap and warm water to remove dirt, dead skin cells and transient organisms. This method is recommended for when hands are visibly soiled. It should be used:
- Before starting a high-contact job
- Crossing into different departments
- Before handling food
- After visiting the toilet
- After handling a soiled item
- Other environments where cross-contamination is possible.
Instructions from the World Health Organisation require users to follow a 12-step process that should take 20-30 seconds to complete. By focusing on the different areas across the hands and following safe tap use methods, it is possible to reduce the presence of bacteria to as low as 8%.
2. Antiseptic Hand Hygiene
Here, the individual uses antiseptic handwash or an alcohol-based antiseptic handrub. This routine has been structured for high-risk situations – traditionally when coming into contact with unwell patients or before an invasive, surgical procedure. It can also be used after contamination, once you have washed your hands with soap and water. Alcohol-based sanitisers containing at least 60% alcohol can inactivate microbes when used appropriately. They should be allowed to dry fully after use.
This method works best when hands are not heavily soiled or greasy. The antiseptic gel should be applied to the palm and then rubbed over all surfaces of the hands until it dries.
3. Surgical Hand Hygiene
More tailored towards use by healthcare professionals, surgical hand hygiene is used prior to operating or invasive procedures. It requires the participant to effectively remove transient microorganism while suppressing resident floral to minimise infection spread. While surgical professionals wear gloves at all times, this method minimises the risk of infection in the event that these gloves split. The CDC also recommends that fingernails are kept short and are cleaned underneath to remove bacteria and dirt. This minimises the risk of glove damage and should be paired with the removal of items such as watches and jewellery.
Caring for your hands
Handwashing is essential, no matter the setting. However, our skin does not react well to excessive cleaning. Soaps break down the skin’s natural protective layer that helps to maintain moisture. If appropriate hand creams are not used, it’s common to see symptoms such as dryness, itching, flaking and cracks – specifically between fingers and around the knuckles. A rich hand cream, such as the Malée Verdure Nourishing Hand Cream uses scientific research and natural products to rehydrate your skin. Beeswax helps to restore this barrier without clogging pores and acts as a humectant to attract water. Avocado Oil thickens up the top epidermis later and also helps to repair this skin barrier. And, Sweet Almond Oil reduces dermatitis on hands and helps to relieve itching. Use a pea-sized amount after every hand washing session, allowing it to be fully absorbed for the best results.
Handwashing techniques are commonly misunderstood and dismissed as general knowledge. However, with a high percentage of individuals still not following the most appropriate procedures, our health & safety remains at risk. Using soap and water for a 20-30 second period and then using a nourishing hand cream helps to remove contaminants and restore the protective layer of oils and waxes on your skin.