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Health Chatter: Why hand hygiene matters at work

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

Unwashed hands are one of the easiest ways to spread and pick up germs at work. If everyone in your workplace washed their hands regularly, the risk of illnesses spreading would be greatly reduced.

How do unwashed hands spread illnesses?

The top illnesses contracted from eating with unwashed hands are diarrhoea and vomiting (D&V), and common respiratory illnesses such as colds and flu.

Without knowing it, we all frequently touch our noses, eyes and mouth – easy entry points for any germs we’re carrying on our fingers.

We can also spread those germs to others by touching food or drinks that they consume. We might touch a railing or a desk which another person then touches, picking up the germs we left behind.

Handwashing also plays a key part in preventing the rise of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are often prescribed unnecessarily for illnesses such as diarrhoea and colds, but handwashing reduces the number of instances of these illnesses in the first place, resulting in fewer antibiotics being prescribed.

How do germs get onto our hands to start with?

A common source of germs is human feces, and even a tiny spec can contain thousands, if not millions of germs. That’s why it’s so vitally important to wash your hands after using the toilet.

In shared workplace toilets especially, you can never be sure who has touched the door handles or flush with unwashed hands before you. So even if you’ve just popped in to flush a tissue, you should still wash your hands.

Germs can also get onto our hands when we cough or sneeze. Try to use a tissue, and always wash your hands afterwards. Dispose of your tissue straightaway and don’t leave it lying on a desk or work surface.

Raw meat can also be a source of harmful germs. Wash your hands and surfaces thoroughly after handling or preparing raw meat.

Raw meat on a wooden chopping board
Wash your hands and surfaces thoroughly after handling or preparing raw meat.

How to wash your hands effectively to prevent the spread of germs

  1. Use soap! Many people wash their hands with water but skip the soap. Soap is far more effective than water at removing germs.

  2. Once the soap is in your hands, spend at least 15 seconds rubbing it in to your palms, fingers, thumbs and nails.

  3. Rinse thoroughly and dry with a paper towel.

  4. Use the towel to turn off the tap and throw it in the bin.

  5. You can use hand sanitiser throughout the day when your hands aren’t visibly soiled.

The World Health Organisation have produced a poster detailing how to effectively wash your hands. You can view it here.


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Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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