How often do you wash your hands?
Date: 10-05-2016

Tatjana Ahmed, Housekeeping Manager, Grand Hyatt Dubai, lists out some shocking facts on hand washing and their importance!

A global survey revealed that 65 per cent of people ‘agree’ that washing hands with soap and water is something they automatically do – however 26 per cent ‘somewhat agree’ and 8 per cent ‘disagree’. Hands are one of the most common vehicles to transport microorganisms – bacteria - to high-risk products, which can be contaminated in a number of ways.

The lack of hand hygiene in the work place can often, therefore, be the root cause in many cases of sickness. Unless bacteria are removed effectively, they are likely to spread from hand to food contact surfaces, thereby presenting a cross contamination risk. Yet studies show that only 67 per cent of people practice any sort of hand hygiene. Researchers believe that this number is low because while most people have a vague idea that hand washing is important, many don’t have a grasp on the facts.

I have put together a list of some of the most interesting (and shocking!) facts about hand washing so you can see why practicing proper hand hygiene is so vitally important.

1. Eight per cent 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-toperson contact. Touching food with contaminated hands spreads foodborne illnesses like Salmonella, E. Coli, Staph, and diarrheal infection. Touching the face with contaminated hands spreads illnesses like pneumonia, the cold, and the flu. Proper hand washing can reduce respiratory infections by close to 20%. Pneumonia remains the number one cause of childhood death. Proper hand washing can reduce diarrhea rates by 40 per cent.

2. The most critical times for hand washing are before preparing food and after going to the bathroom. Only 20 per cent of people wash their hands before preparing food. Less than 75 per cent of women and less than 50 per cent of men wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Every time a toilet is flushed with the lid up, a fine mist containing bacteria such as E. Coli and Staph is spread over an area of 6 square meters. The area around sinks in public bathrooms is 90 per cent covered in such bacteria.

3. The recommended hand washing time is 15 seconds, but the ideal washing time is 30 seconds.

  • For every 15 seconds spent washing hands, 10 times more bacteria is removed.
  • The average person spends less than 10 seconds washing their hands.
  • 30 seconds of using hand sanitizer kills as much bacteria as 2 full minutes of hand washing

4. Most bacteria on our hands is on the fingertips and under the nails The number of bacteria on our fingertips doubles after using the bathroom. Most people wash the palms of their hands and miss everything else. The bacteria count is highest on the dominant hand. Yet right-handed people wash their left hand more thoroughly than their right hand, and vice versa.

5. Damp hands are 1,000x more likely to spread bacteria than dry hands Only 20 per cent of people dry their hands after washing. Re-usable cloth towels harbour millions of bacteria. Disposable paper towels are the most sanitary means of drying hands. (Unfortunately this is not the most environmental practice).

6. Hand washing and hand hygiene initiatives greatly reduce the number of absences, sick leaves, and lost productivity

A study of Detroit school children showed that those who washed their hands had 24 per cent fewer sick days due to respiratory illness and 51 per cent fewer sick days due to upset stomach. In China, distribution of soap in primary schools resulted in 54 per cent fewer sick days. The use of hand sanitizer in the classroom resulted in 20 per cent fewer sick days across 16 different elementary schools.

Food for Thought!

About the author: Tatjana Ahmed is the Housekeeping Manager at Grand Hyatt Dubai and Functional Specialist – Housekeeping for Hyatt International. She has been in the hospitality industry for the past 32 years and is an active member and Chairlady of the UAE Professional Housekeeper’s Group.