Global Handwashing Day is a worldwide day of advocacy dedicated to increasing awareness about the key role handwashing can play in preventing diseases and saving lives. Occurring on October 15 each year, the day is an opportunity to encourage people to wash their hands the right way at the right times.
As flu season kicks in and Global Handwashing Day approaches, businesses should highlight the importance of hand hygiene in preventing contagious infections like influenza, the common cold, norovirus and more.
To face the annual challenges caused by the flu and the common cold, managers should know what they’re up against. The common cold and influenza are both viral respiratory infections that cause similar sets of symptoms (cough, sore throat, fatigue, etc.). They are both highly contagious and can be spread through the air via a cough or a sneeze or by touching hands or surfaces touched by an infected person.
However, the flu is generally a more severe infection. Complicating matters, there is a 1-4 day period from infection to flu-like symptoms, meaning that an employee may show up to work or a visitor may enter a facility with the flu without knowing they are contagious. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 290,000 and 650,000 deaths occur annually worldwide from complications caused by the flu. In addition, adults get an average of 2-3 colds per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Since 80% of these common infections are spread by hands, businesses should understand how proper handwashing can be a powerful preventative measure to minimize the impact of common viruses. Managers should recognize that each step they take toward implementing frequent and correct handwashing among staff and guests is a step toward a healthier facility.
Fight Infections with Clean Hands
Research reveals that handwashing can prevent about 20% of respiratory infections, including cases of the cold and influenza. Business owners and managers should emphasize these best practices for hand hygiene throughout their operation.
- Make hygiene accessible: Managers should make it easy for staff and guests to practice handwashing by intentionally placing hand sanitizer dispensers where soap and a sink are not available. These include high-traffic areas like entrances, checkout counters and elsewhere around the facility. Look for hybrid dispensers that have both touch-free and manual options for nonstop hand hygiene. Alcohol-based sanitizers should contain at least 60% alcohol for effective germ removal. In kitchens and restrooms, these same dispensers can house soap to encourage handwashing at critical moments.
- Disinfect surfaces: Because the influenza virus can survive for up to two days on hard surfaces, staff should stay on top of wiping down high-touch surfaces with an effective, non-toxic disinfectant solution. Seek out a fast-acting disinfectant with enhanced cleaning power that is effective on a variety of surfaces. When surfaces stay clean, the hands of customers and staff members who inevitably touch them will stay clean, too.
- Educate employees: Employees should fully understand not only when and why to wash their hands, but how to do so properly. When using soap and water, make sure to rub hands together for at least 20 seconds. Don’t forget to wash between fingers as well as the backs of hands and wrists. In the case of hand sanitizer, it should be used specifically when hands are not visibly dirty. Apply enough of the product to wet hands completely, front and back. Rub the sanitizer in until both hands are completely dry. Consider hanging posters with how-to guides in key areas to serve as a reminder to wash hands properly.
- Get creative! Don’t forget that Global Handwashing Day is not just a time to raise awareness of the importance of handwashing. It is also meant to inspire people around the world to pioneer and innovate new ways of encouraging better hand hygiene. Leverage the power of social media or email campaigns to get the word out. Host a facility-wide competition and incentivize employees to come up with their own ideas on how to improve handwashing habits.
Global Handwashing Day is an initiative intent on maximizing awareness of the all-important habits of hand hygiene. For businesses, these habits can mean the difference between a healthy workforce and a spike in absenteeism and presenteeism. So, as flu season begins, business owners and managers around the world should empower their staff and guests to wash their hands frequently and correctly. To minimize the impact of the flu and the common cold, consider every day to be Global Handwashing Day.
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