No matter what the industry, chances are that your company has employees who make a living using their hands. Our hands are the connection we make with everything in our everyday lives. However, they likely are overlooked when it comes to employee health and safety.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 40 percent of industrial workers will suffer from occupational dermatitis at some point in their working lives. Poor hand hygiene can lead to increased illness and can result in:
- Disruption cost and lost productivity through employee absence from work;
- Reduced employee efficiency through illness at work and lower morale;
- Damage to an organization's reputation.
For any organization, implementing and maintaining appropriate hand hygiene practices is a daily challenge. Employers and facility managers have a legal responsibility to ensure that they provide a safe working environment for their employees. Addressing hand hygiene is an important part of this.
Leaving occupational skin disorders unaddressed in the workplace can cost an organization millions of dollars. In fact, the cost of occupational skin disorders exceed $1 billion each year, with estimated costs including time away from work, reduced productivity and workers compensation claims.
Best Practices for Healthy Hands
Use pre-work creams – Protective pre-work creams can be used under gloves or without gloves to help prevent skin irritation and maintain healthy skin for easier skin cleansing.
Wash hands properly and often – Apply a small amount of hand cleanser to dry hands. Rub hands vigorously together for at least 20 seconds. Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of hands, wrists, between the fingers and under the fingernails. Rinse well and then dry hands with a clean or disposable towel. Make sure to use a towel to turn off the faucet.
Use the right cleanser for the job – There is an ongoing misconception that a hand cleanser's performance is measured by its ability to clean hands aggressively. Most cleansers far surpass the user's actual requirements. Make sure to embrace a product that takes into consideration the impact on the hands, yet still is powerful and effective for the job.
Choose heavy-duty cleansers without harsh abrasives – Grit often is added to a hand cleanser to help remove substances like oil, dirt and grime. However, there are a number of scrubbers such as pumice and sand that can cause micro-abrasions or tears in the skin. The goal is to have an effective cleansing without stripping or causing damage to the hands.
Opt for solvent-free cleansers – Many industrial cleansers contain dangerous ingredients like petroleum distillates. Derivatives of crude oil, these solvents not only irritate hands but are absorbed through the skin and, over time, can lead to harmful levels of toxins in the body. Low-solvent and solvent-free cleansers are a safer option.
Keep cleansers accessible – The location of hand-cleansing products can help increase hand washing compliance. Place them where they are easy to find and see to reinforce the importance of hand washing throughout the day.
Condition hands after washing – After cleansing hands, the skin can lose important oils and moisture. Apply an after-work conditioning cream to balance and replenish the moisture in the skin.
Use gloves where required or necessary – It's not always practical or safe to use gloves when working. Nonetheless, gloves and other personal protective equipment should be used whenever possible to shield hands from harsh irritants and contaminants.
Report skin conditions immediately – Make sure you and the employees in your care know that if skin problems occur, they should be reported and cared for right away to prevent further damage.
Choosing the Right Cleanser and Dispenser
Once your team learns more about prevention, pick the best-suited hand cleanser and dispensing system.
The appropriate products should be available and accessible to workers where and when they are required. Creams should be located in key areas such as changing rooms, work area entrances, washrooms and hand washing stations.
Frequent hand washing is a crucial step to prevent spreading germs from one person to another throughout the workplace and ultimately to creating a healthy and productive work environment.
Andreas Klotz is the technical product manager at Deb Group. He worked in R&D and marketing for Stoko in Europe for 17 years before becoming a senior marketing manager in the U.S. in 2012. Stoko recently was acquired by Deb, where Klotz focuses on solutions to ensure hands stay healthy at the workplace.