Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Hand Hygiene: The Struggle With Compliance

February 8, 2012

It turns out that one of the most basic things we were taught as children, to wash our hands, is one of the keys to infection prevention.

As simple as that advice sounds, there are widespread compliance issues that have dire consequences.

Here are the facts, according to the Southeastern District Health Department:

  • Up to half of all men and a quarter of women fail to wash their hands after they use the restroom
  • Right-handed people tend to wash their left hand more thoroughly than their right, and vice versa
  • We have upwards of 10 million bacteria between our fingertips and elbow
  • Damp hands spread 1,000 times more germs than dry hands
  • The number of germs on your fingertips doubles after you use the toilet
  • Germs can stay alive on hands for up to three hours
  • Millions of germs hide under watches and bracelets, and there could be as many germs under your ring as there are people in Europe.
The statistics on hand hygiene in the most critical settings are alarming.

Health care practitioners and foodservice workers come to mind first.

But, the fact is that, in one study performed at Hannover Medical School in Germany, two-thirds of U.S. medical students didn''t know when to wash their hands.

The statistics clearly show there are major problems with compliance.

The first line of defense in preventing the spread of infection and disease is simply good hand hygiene.

So, why are video cameras, undercover observers and new inventions to boost compliance necessary?

The research indicates simply that people do not think it is necessary.

Our primary role as professionals in the cleaning industry is public health.

The crux of the hand hygiene compliance problem comes back to education.

We not only have a duty but an opportunity to take an active role in educating our clients, the occupants of the buildings we service and the general public on the importance of good hand hygiene.

A Silver Lining

The two facility sectors that show the largest growth forecasts for building service contractors (BSC) are health care and schools.

As of 2008, only 14 percent of healthcare facilities in the U.S. were in the hands of BSCs.

The Canadian healthcare authorities are also considering the use of private companies to provide environmental services with a savings for their government-controlled system.

The increasing pressure on federal, state and county government budgets are causing a flood of outsourcing of public school facilities as a sensible cost-cutting measure for local school boards throughout the U.S.

While there are local battles to keep private BSCs out, those battles are being won by private companies on the basis of lower cost to the citizens.

One strategy for BSCs that would be effective and is necessary is to take on the responsibility for education to both the general public as well as the two growing facility sectors on the critical importance, as well as the best practices, of good hand hygiene.

This is an issue that our industry could own.

Who better than "the cleaning people" to talk about and teach the importance of washing your hands?

A quick Internet search on good hand hygiene or how to wash your hands yields an enormous amount of both entertaining and informative material.

Much of the material available is in the public domain and free for anyone to use.

It would be simple to appropriate and utilize the existing creative tools to boost compliance.

Hand hygiene is the foundation of infection prevention.

Compliance with effective hand hygiene practices is not high enough.

Public awareness and education are the most effective means to boost compliance.

We have a responsibility to raise public awareness and educate everyone on proper hand hygiene.

The only question that remains is, "Will you seize this opportunity?"

Ed Selkow is a 36-year veteran of the commercial janitorial industry. Selkow is team leader of Janitorial Growth Solutions, a consulting firm that concentrates on expansion tools, methods and strategies for janitorial companies throughout North America. For more information, visit Connect with Ed via LinkedIn at