Dyson senior scientist talks hand hygiene
With hygiene a priority as workers return to the office, Dyson scientist Dr Salomé Giao has outlined high-contact surfaces of which to be mindful.
As more workers return to the physical workplace in the coming months, we must all be weary of high-contact touch points both en route to work and within the office. A Culture Amp survey of 32,000 employed adults found half were not looking forward to returning to the office and two-thirds said they wouldn’t feel safe being back in the workplace. Infection is the top concern of those feeling neutral or negative about returning.
As they have been all year, cleanliness and hand hygiene are more important than ever. Leading health organisations that stipulate 20 seconds of handwashing with soap should also stress the importance of dry hands.
“Not many people are aware that damp hands can transfer up to 1000 times more bacteria than dry hands,” says Dr Salomé Giao, senior scientist at Dyson. “So, when thinking about hand hygiene, every step of the process is essential. From washing hands thoroughly to remove micro-organisms from the skin, to drying them well. The reason for this is that dry hands help prevent the transfer of bacteria. Not all bacteria are harmful, but some can cause disease, which is why good hand hygiene is important.
“Bacteria and viruses deposited onto surfaces can survive for several hours and, when these contaminated surfaces are touched, they can be transferred. Washing and drying your hands frequently will minimise the transfer of bacteria and viruses.”
Dr Giao outlines seven high-contact surfaces of which to be mindful:
- Ticket machines for public transport. Many people still use ticket machines daily. At peak times in particular, these are high contact points and users should use appropriate hand sanitiser afterwards. Remember: for soiled hands, sanitising gels are ineffective. If your hands are visibly dirty, use a hand wipe first to remove the muck and a gel afterwards, until you can get to soap and water.
- Handles on public transport. The ‘dirtiness’ of a surface depends on its surface material. Porous surfaces like foam grips and cloth seats hold the most bacteria and can collect microbes more efficiently than something like a metal pole. A pole, however is more likely to come in contact with hands. Avoid unnecessary contact with these surfaces.
- Lift buttons. In a busy building, lift buttons are used by hundreds who will have come into contact with all sorts of bacteria. “Even if the elevator is cleaned regularly, the potential for bacteria build-up is high, so remember to not touch your face until you are able to wash your hands properly,” Giao recommends.
- Computer keyboard. In the era of ‘hot desking’ it’s even more important to keep high-contact surfaces clean. Giao recommends avoiding hot desking, or at least ensuring the same person stays at the one desk for the entire day. For those stuck hot desking, hand hygiene and proper washing practice can make a difference. Ensure keyboards, desks and chairs are cleaned between users. Antibacterial wipes can help encourage more frequent sanitisation – but don’t use the same cloth across multiple surfaces.
- Reusable cups. When refilling cups and bottles, ensure they do not touch the drink dispenser. “Clean your cup with hot water and soap regularly, as well as drying it thoroughly afterward with a clean cloth. Avoid using kitchen towels that hang around the kitchen as they are often damp, which could recontaminate the cup,” Giao recommends.
- Kitchen towels in shared kitchenettes. “Particularly if these are left near a radiator, the towel becomes damp and warm, providing fertile ground for proliferation of bacteria,” says Giao. Use your own kitchen towel where possible and ensure it dries quickly. Hand sanitisers after a thorough handwashing routine is a good way to minimise further bacterial spread too, especially if kitchen towels are not changed regularly.
- Old hand dryer buttons. “Door handles, light switches and elevator buttons have become focus points of disinfection, particularly in the current climate,” notes Giao, “but there are other buttons that can be overlooked.” Office washrooms can be very busy areas with great potential for cross-contamination, particularly where people may not wash their hands thoroughly. Not all hand dryers are touch-free and will require frequent cleaning. Where possible switch to touch-free solutions.