By Sue Davis (“Safety Sue”), Director, BWC Employee Safety & Health Administration
In 1847, a Hungarian obstetrician by the name of Ignaz P. Semmelweiss showed that hand washing greatly reduced infections in newborns. Dr. Semmelweiss attempted to promote hand washing and cleanliness among his colleagues, who were so offended that they committed him to an insane asylum.
Today, it is a well-known fact that hand washing greatly reduces the spread of disease.
Yet studies show that only 67 percent of people practice any sort of hand hygiene. Researchers believe this number is low because most people have a vague idea that hand washing is important, but many don’t have a grasp on the facts.
Communicable diseases are serious business. At the very least, diseases – like a cold or the flu – impact your day-to-day life in a negative way. More serious diseases can be very dangerous to your health and to others.
Although the flu season lasts from October until May, the peak months are usually between December and March. In addition to the flu, varieties of other communicable diseases spread more easily in winter months.
As an employer, it’s important to do your part in preventing diseases from spreading in your workplace this flu season. In 2016, your employees won’t question your mental health for encouraging hand washing; in fact, December is National Hand Washing Month. So now is the time to remind your employees to wash their hands often, keep their workspaces clean and eat healthy. And if they are ill, encourage them to stay home.
Here are a few other facts to share with your employees:
- Eighty percent of communicable diseases are transferred by touch.
- Touch refers primarily to the touching of food, or the touching of one’s own mouth, eyes, and nose. It is not simply person-to-person contact.
- Touching the face with contaminated hands spreads illnesses such as pneumonia, the common cold and the flu.
- Hand washing can reduce the risk of respiratory infections by 16 percent.
- More than 50 percent of healthy persons have Staphylococcus aureus (bacteria causing staph infections) living in or on their nasal passages, throats, hair or skin.
- Less than 75 percent of women and less than 50 percent of men wash their hands after going to the bathroom.
- The recommended washing time is 15 seconds. The ideal washing time is 30 seconds.
- Only 20 percent of people dry their hands after washing. Damp hands are 1,000 times more likely to spread bacteria than dry hands.
- Hand washing and hand hygiene initiatives greatly reduce the number of absences, sick leaves and lost productivity.
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