Preventing spread of germs important during flu season

Is the workplace the weakest link?

Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2001

The results of a recent survey conducted by the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) revealed the workplace often is a weak link in the attempt to prevent the contraction and spread of infectious diseases.

This national survey was based on 1,013 telephone interviews of American adults, 18 years and older. (Just to set the record straight, they didn't call our Cooperative Extension Office!)

Let's start with the encouraging news. This survey showed that 72 percent of U.S. workers wash their hands five or more times a day when their employers post hand washing signs. Related to this statistic, 88 percent of food service facilities and 67 percent of medical facilities post signs encouraging employee hand washing. Among food service employees, 68 percent reported washing their hands five or more times a day.

Are you ready for the bad news? The survey revealed that 73 percent of offices and customer service facilities and 74 percent of maintenance and construction operations do not post signs that remind employees to wash their hands.

And who isn't washing their hands often enough? It appears this honor belongs to 65 percent of maintenance and construction workers and 47 percent of office and customer service workers. Fifty percent of maintenance and construction workers aren't washing their hands long enough.

Often enough? Long enough? When?

The SDA recommends washing your hands five or more times each day and to wash, creating a good lather with soap and water for at least 15 seconds.

It would be nice to think that hand washing is plain common sense, but the SDA offers some recommendations as to when to wash hands such as after each time you use the restroom, before and after staff meetings if food is served, after looking at newspapers or magazines in a common area, before and after lunch, after using someone else's keyboard, tools or shared office equipment, and after shaking hands with someone.

If soap and water aren't available where you are, SDA suggests alternatives such as alcohol based hand sanitizers or gels or antibacterial wipes.

With the cold and flu season already upon us, now is a good time to tighten up or workplace hygiene. The report stated that, "On the flu alone, Americans spend $1.3 billion on direct medical costs. Lost productivity in the workplace can add another $15 billion to the annual tab."

Hand washing is considered to be one of the most important means of preventing germs from spreading, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The SDA believes employers hold the key to improving hand washing in the workplace. Employers can encourage hand washing by posting hand washing reminder signs in bathrooms, kitchens and other common areas. The SDA survey suggested there was a strong correlation between encouragement by employers and compliance by employees.

Linda Athons is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension office on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Development programs.

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