The Importance of Hand Sanitizer in the Office
According to a 2016 paper, the typical office desk holds over 10 million bacteria – that’s 400 times more germs than found on most toilet seats.
How can you fight back against all this potential for illness?
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers have been shown as an effective tool to combat infections due to harmful germs. Those sanitizers are particularly important for convenient use in the office.
Why is Hand Sanitizer So Necessary in the Office?
In the 2016 research mentioned above, which was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, large amounts of bacteria were found throughout workplaces. Objects such as office phones, water fountains, keyboards, computer mice and elevator buttons are homes to the bacteria.
Researchers studied 4,800 surfaces, noting particularly high “officially dirty” readings on handles like those on break room sink faucets, microwave doors and refrigerator doors.
Soap and water are typically the first line of defense for fighting these kinds of germs. But, as Mayo Clinic physician and researcher Dr. Pritish K. Tosh notes, “You can’t just be in the bathroom washing your hands all day”. Hand sanitizer is highly convenient and able to be kept at individual desks or taken on the go for continued use.
Estimates say that presenteeism (when employees come to work despite being sick and thus are not able to perform as well) and absences cost $227 billion every year.
On average, U.S. workers sick with influenza lose roughly three days of work.
How Should More Employers Encourage the Use of Hand Sanitizer?
If you’d like to encourage the use of hand sanitizer in your office, consider implementing a hand hygiene program. Employees would have not just hand sanitizer, but education about proper hand hygiene. Programs like these are inexpensive but proven to be valuable.
One trial on the subject focused on a U.S. workplace over 13.5 months. They found that a hand sanitizer/education program caused a serious effect on employee health. Hygiene-preventable healthcare claims dropped in the intervention group by more than 20%.
A different report looked into a U.S. Midwestern government office. Employees noted a 31% reduction in a variety of illnesses after three months using hand sanitizers. Study authors also shared a possible 21 relative reduction in lost workdays.
In a longer German study, city workers who were given hand sanitizer found positive results lasted throughout the one-year trial.
It’s also important to consider emotional impact with the financial. Unsurprisingly, the majority of workers in the hand hygiene program study described that unplanned absence caused stress, disruption and lower morale.
In contrast, participants appreciated the effort and care from the company. They said the wellness installation appeared to show company concern for employee well-being.
Are There Cases When Hand Sanitizer Doesn’t Work As Well?
Hand sanitizer does not work as well with:
- Visible dirt or grease
- Harsh chemicals such as heavy metals and pesticides
- Fresh, wet mucus
When using hand-sanitizer, consider this advice from CDC Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion Associate Director for Science L. Clifford McDonald: “Put product on your hands and rub hands together. Cover all surfaces until hands feel dry. This should take around 20 seconds, a good indicator that the right amount has been used.”
He added: “Remember to clean your thumbs, finger tips, and in between the fingers – these areas are commonly missed when cleaning hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizer.”
To be effective, the hand sanitizer must be alcohol-based and contain at least 60% alcohol.
What Else Can Workers Do to Prevent Illness?
There has been encouraging news of a potential universal flu vaccine. The flu shot would make it a lot easier for office workers to get through flu season without getting sick.
But, there’s still at least years until that vaccine is fully developed. Until then, the current flu vaccine is still the best way to avoid infection this season. But, hand sanitizer does offer excellent protection.
If you’d like to find more resources to prevent infection at work, check out our list of items to help stay flu-free at the office.
Whether you have your own personal hand sanitizer or use a unit at the office, it’s clear that it can be an important tool to help stop the spread of germs and prevent illness.
Are you looking for more information to keep your office healthy? How about answers about an on-site flu clinic to fight the current flu season? Passport Health can help. Give us a call at , or fill out a contact form for more information.
Written for Passport Health by Katherine Meikle. Katherine is a research writer and proud first-generation British-American living in Florida, where she was born and raised. She has a passion for travel and a love of writing, which go hand-in-hand.