How Hand-Washing Can Prevent Workplace Illnesses

Hand-washing is one of the simplest and most effective ways to kill germs and stop their spread. Rubbing your hands together under the tap — even without soap — can remove up to three-quarters of the bacteria on your hands. Adding soap can reduce germ levels to 8% of what they were before you wash. 

By killing germs on our hands, we can slow the spread of many illnesses, including bacterial infections, the flu, the common cold and even more serious diseases such as norovirus. Introducing hand-washing education can reduce respiratory illnesses like colds by 21%. In the workplace, this can have many positive outcomes — healthy workers are more productive and take fewer sick days. They also make fewer health insurance claims.

Best Hand-Washing Practices

Best Hand-Washing Practices

When encouraging hand-washing at your workplace, it’s best to start with comprehensive education. A simple training session is probably enough to teach your team when and how to wash their hands properly. You can also go over other hand hygiene topics, such as when to use gloves or hand sanitizer. When your staff understands why hand-washing is so effective, they’re more likely to do it readily. Here are some tips and best practices to share as you’re educating your employees on how to clean their hands:

1. Wash Your Hands at Key Times to Prevent Germ Spread

While most people know they should wash their hands, understanding when and why can motivate them to follow through. Some critical times to wash your hands include:

  • Before, during and after food prep: Germs can pass from dirty hands onto food, creating a health hazard. Just the same, raw foods may have bacteria that can transfer to your hands. Wash your hands before and after working with food and when switching between food prep tasks.
  • Before and after eating: Likewise, germs from your hands can pass on to food while eating. Washing beforehand helps kill potential pathogens. Washing after can remove any grease that may encourage pathogen growth.
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick: When someone is sick, their immune system is weakened, so it’s best to limit the germs they come in contact with. After caring for a sick person, washing your hands will remove any of the germs you were exposed to.
  • Before and after treating wounds: Bacterial infections can occur when the person dressing a wound has germs or dirt on their hands. Bloodborne pathogens can also be a concern.
  • After using the restroom or changing diapers: After any potential exposure to fecal matter, wash your hands to prevent bacterial or gastrointestinal illnesses. 
  • After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose: Even if you don’t feel sick, removing the germs from your hands after these activities can prevent you from spreading illness through touch.
  • After interacting with an animal, feed or waste: Certain diseases can pass from animals to humans, including salmonella and ringworm. Washing hands after any contact with animals can prevent this risk. 
  • After touching garbage: Tossed food and other waste can harbor bacteria and mold, and you don’t always know everything that could be lurking in a trash can. It’s best to wash your hands after any contact.

2. Wash Your Hands Thoroughly

Being thorough during hand-washing is proven to remove higher concentrations of microbes and limit the spread of germs. Remember to:

  1. Wet: Use clean, running water to wet your hands. The temperature does not matter, as long as the water is clean.
  2. Lather: Soap contains surfactants that can help lift grime, dirt and microbes from the skin. It is much more effective at removing germs than water or hand sanitizer alone. Create a lather by rubbing hands together.
  3. Scrub: Scrubbing your hands all over creates friction which helps lift soil and microbes, especially when combined with soap. Make sure to include the backs of hands, underneath nails and between fingers, where germs can congregate. Most evidence points to scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, which removes more germs than washing for shorter periods. 
  4. Rinse: Once you’ve lifted microbes, grease and dirt from your hands, rinse well with clean, running water to wash them away. 
  5. Dry: Germs can transfer more easily to surfaces from wet hands, so drying thoroughly is essential. Using a clean towel or air drying is best.

3. Use Hand Sanitizer When Soap and Water Aren’t Available

Using soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs. Hand sanitizers do not kill all types of germs or effectively remove grease, dirt or harmful substances like chemicals. Also, alcohol-based hand rubs do not have the ability to slough pathogens from the skin. But hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol works well between thorough hand-washings and when soap and water aren’t practical or readily available.

When using hand sanitizer to reduce the number of germs on your hands quickly, apply the gel to the palm of your hand. Rub your hands together. Get the gel onto all surfaces, including the backs of hands, between fingers and under the nails. Keep rubbing until the gel is dry, which should take around 20 seconds. 

Workplace Action Plans

As an office manager, building manager or another party responsible for your company’s health and wellness, you should recognize your role in promoting workplace hand hygiene. Besides educating your team on the proper procedures, you can take on a few bigger-picture initiatives. Projects like these help your employees wash their hands more frequently and generally promote a healthier, safer work environment:


Design a Hand Hygiene Intervention Program

A comprehensive hand hygiene program can make a noticeable improvement in illness prevention. In particular, it’s been shown to reduce health-related absenteeism and insurance claims related to hygiene-preventable infections such as the flu. 

One study found that combining hand-hygiene education with strategically placed hand sanitizer stations can reduce hygiene-preventable insurance claims by over 20%. It can also reduce absenteeism and improve employees’ perceptions of the company. Such a program is simple to enact and highly targeted to improve hand hygiene. 

A brief hand-hygiene education seminar can highlight the proper procedures and times for washing hands properly. Then, giving employees easy access to hand sanitizer and sinks helps them follow through on what they’ve learned until it becomes second nature.

Consider the Law When Creating Hand-Washing Policies

While all companies can develop a hand-washing policy, specific industries require them. The food service and hospitality industries have laws governing hand hygiene. These businesses often have more comprehensive guidelines for their employees, such as requiring short fingernails and sanitizing hands before interaction with clients. By law, these businesses must place the proper signage and hand-washing reminders in bathrooms.

Certain local governments have more extensive rules on workplace hand-washing. In New York City, employees must wash hands before interacting with delivery workers. Throughout New York state, employers must provide and maintain hand hygiene stations with soap, warm running water, disposable paper towels and a lined garbage can. They must also offer hand sanitizing stations with 60% or more alcohol content where hand-washing stations aren’t feasible.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, employers must provide effective hand sanitizer, soap and water. They must also allow frequent breaks to give employees time to wash their hands. Businesses with public access must also provide hand sanitizer, soap and water, trash cans and tissues at the entrance, reception and anywhere else employees may have direct contact with the public.

If you’re in an industry or area that doesn’t require any specific hand-washing policies, it may be beneficial to incorporate similar rules. Providing adequate resources and posting hand-washing signage near sinks can go a long way.

Reinforce Hand-Washing Often

While an in-depth training seminar may help teach employees about the best hand-washing techniques, frequent reminders help them remember that information. Find creative and natural ways to remind your team of hand-washing policies and best practices. It can be particularly impactful to offer some refreshers about policies and disease control education during flu season. Consider placing additional signage or making a habit of reminding employees during meetings. It may also be prudent to offer incentives for good hand hygiene.

Ensure Access to Hot Water, Soap and Towels

The most important thing employers can do to encourage hand-washing is provide the necessary resources. Employees can only keep their hands clean when the soap dispenser is filled and clean paper towels are always in reach.

While water temperature doesn’t significantly impact germ reduction, you should provide access to warm water and good plumbing with adequate water pressure. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code specifies the minimum hand-washing water temperature should be 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Why? Warm water is more comfortable, which encourages people to wash more often and more thoroughly. Also, in food prep specifically, warm water is better for removing fat and grease. It can also encourage a better lather. 

Ensuring a sound plumbing system that provides sufficient water pressure and is designed to prevent waterborne microbes is also crucial. Outside of washrooms, strategically place hand sanitizing stations in communal areas. Consider placing them in hallways, at the entrance of meeting rooms and wherever employees or visitors may need to interact with frequently touched surfaces. 

Keep Communal Areas Clean

While personal hygiene and frequent hand-washing are essential, consider the bigger picture. Washing hands is crucial because it limits the number of germs that transfer between people through surfaces. While it may be challenging to enforce 20-second hand-washing for every employee 100% of the time, it’s much simpler to ensure these areas are frequently cleaned. Keeping the office cleaner keeps hands cleaner.

When common areas and personal workstations receive thorough cleaning and disinfection, you can kill any germs that may get missed through regular hand-washing or by someone who forgot to wash.

Proper Hygiene and Signage

Proper Hygiene and Signage

As an employer, you may have some requirements at your workplace to enforce proper hygiene. These requirements may include hand-washing signage and reminders. Workplaces also have a responsibility to maintain hand-washing facilities and keep their entire building clean. Here are three considerations for enforcing proper hygiene:

1. Keep Soap and Hand Sanitizer Stations Well-Stocked

Employers have an obligation to provide adequate hand-washing supplies in every bathroom and food prep area. Maintaining your hand-washing stations is also critical for any business that wants to improve public health within their workplace. Your soap dispensers, hand sanitizer stations and paper towel dispensers should always have enough supply to serve the number of people who will use them.

Keep in mind that by encouraging more frequent hand-washing, your facility may go through more supplies. It’s crucial to keep plenty of soap, hand sanitizers and paper towels to refill these whenever needed. Reorder these supplies well before you expect to run out. It’s also helpful to post a sign with a phone number that employees can call if the bathroom needs servicing. 

Ensure your custodial staff is cleaning restrooms and kitchens at least daily. This step helps remove germs from the floors, door handles, toilets, sinks and other surfaces. It also gives them a chance to monitor soap and paper towel dispensers and provide refills as needed. If you need help maintaining your restrooms and workplace facilities, consider hiring custodial services.

2. Place Hand-Washing Signs Where Legally Required

Most states have laws for restaurants and other businesses involved in food prep about hand-washing signage. These mandatory signs usually say, “Employees must wash hands before returning to work.” These signs often feature pictograms and may also include a mention of the state’s specific rule or a requirement to use soap. 

These businesses must also place appropriate signage in food prep areas, reminding employees to wash hands before and after handling raw food. Refer to your state’s specific guidelines and the FDA Food Code to determine where signs are necessary.

3. Consider Additional Signage for Policies and Reminders

After you cover the legal requirements with your hand-washing signage, consider signs that highlight your specific workplace policies or some other general reminders when not required. You might include a poster in the bathroom that goes over the proper five-step procedure for hand-washing.

A visual diagram that shows the specific scrubbing motions, such as the backs of hands, between fingers and under the nails, can help employees remember to clean these often-forgotten areas. Following the steps laid out in the diagram may also encourage employees to spend the full 20 seconds washing their hands.

Professional Cleaning Services

Professional cleaning services are as essential to hand hygiene as washing hands. If the goal of hand-washing is to prevent the spread of germs through touch, removing these germs from surfaces where they’re likely to be picked up on someone’s hands is also vital. Meanwhile, a cleaner environment can encourage employees to keep better personal hygiene habits. 

Even the most adamant hand washers cannot keep all microbes off their hands. Humans naturally touch their faces many times throughout the day, often without even realizing it. And of course, it’s impractical to make sure that every employee washes their hands thoroughly and uses hand sanitizer often throughout the workday. Even with the best workplace hand hygiene intervention program, viruses and bacteria can still accumulate on surfaces.

Get Complete Protection With Total Building Disinfection

Disinfection is a crucial step businesses can take to keep their facilities clean and prevent illnesses from spreading through touch. Some companies may schedule regular disinfection services, while others may need one-time services. Corporate Clean Services can come to your facility on the same day to disinfect your entire building. We use the Clorox Total 360 system to kill harmful microbes fast.


Contact Corporate Cleaning & Facility Services for Deep Cleaning and Disinfection

Corporate Cleaning & Facility Services is here to help you keep your office healthy and safe. As long-time cleaning experts, exceeding expectations is our goal. We offer custodial services to help you keep your bathrooms clean and well-maintained while ensuring your whole office can slow the spread of surface contaminants. We’re flexible and customer-oriented, so we can develop a cleaning plan that meets your workplace hygiene and cleaning needs. When you need extra protection from potential pathogens, our total building disinfection team can be on-site the same day you call. 

Feel free to call anytime to learn more about our services and get a free quote.