Hand washing compliance rates and techniques to improve them

Last year, outbreaks of E. Coli at Chipotle and norovirus on several cruise lines made the headlines. Those news-grabbing cases, coupled with the current cold and flu season, illustrate the importance of proper hand hygiene.

Although hand washing is critical in preventing the spread of illnesses, compliance rates remain low.

“It’s abysmal,” says Darrel Hicks, infection prevention consultant in St. Louis and author of Infection Prevention for Dummies.
A 2013 study by Michigan State University found that only 5 percent of people properly washed their hands after using the restroom. Other studies cite rates as high as 50 percent, but most agree that at least half of all people fail at hand hygiene — and that can have severe consequences, says Loie Couch, infection prevention specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.

“If your hands are contaminated, you can transmit that to as many as seven different surfaces,” she says. “And consider the consequences when Hepatitis B can survive on surfaces for seven days. Other things can survive for three months. And you can’t see them so you don’t know they are there.”

The cost of poor hand hygiene can be monumental. Illnesses can result in pricey absenteeism rates at schools and offices and, more worrisome, loss of lives in healthcare settings.

“People calling in sick costs this country billions of dollars a year, so clean hands will save businesses money,” Hicks says. “Also, 100,000 people die each year from infections they’ve received at hospitals, and between 1 and 3 million people a year die in long-term care from healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).”

To curb these costly outcomes, there’s growing pressure on facility cleaning managers to do what they can to boost hand hygiene compliance rates among building occupants.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others is to wash our hands,” says Brian Sansoni of the American Cleaning Institute (ACI). “All workplaces, schools, and office buildings should make it as simple as possible for everyone to clean their hands.”

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Proper Hand Washing Techniques