The Importance of Good Hand Hygiene – Its Role in Infection Control

Good hand hygiene can help prevent the spread of infections, including COVID-19. Knowing how to wash your hands properly and use hand sanitisers appropriately can help protect you and others from harmful bacteria and viruses.

Why is hand hygiene important?

A number of viruses and infectious diseases can be spread through hands, including gastrointestinal infections and respiratory infections such as coronavirus (COVID-19).

In healthcare settings, hands are the main pathway for harmful microorganisms to spread.

Hand washing with soap and other hand hygiene practices can help prevent the spread of germs. It’s particularly important if you care for or interact with vulnerable people such as the elderly, children or immunocompromised.

Most infectious diseases are easily spread through direct contact with a person who has the bacterium or virus. However, many infectious diseases can be passed by indirect contact.

Germs can linger on surfaces such as doorknobs and benchtops. If you touch an infected surface and then touch your face before washing your hands, you may become infected.

How to practice good hand hygiene

For non-healthcare settings, the most effective way to clean your hands is with soap and water. Liquid soap is better than bar soap for workplaces and public settings where multiple people use the facilities.

In healthcare settings, the best method is using an alcohol hand rub, unless your hands are soiled. In that case, washing your hands with soap and water is preferred.

Other things you can do to improve hand hygiene:

  • Keep your nails short so that it’s easier to clean underneath them
  • Cover any open wounds or damaged skin with a water resistant dressing
  • Change wound dressings when soiled or damaged
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow if a tissue is not available
  • Launder hand towels regularly and hang up to dry between use
  • Don’t share personal items such as toothbrushes, razors and drinking glasses with others
  • Regularly clean shared surfaces with hospital grade disinfectant.

When to wash your hands

You should wash your hands:

  • After going to the toilet
  • After sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose
  • Before and after handling food
  • Before eating
  • After handling rubbish
  • After working in the garden
  • After caring for someone who is sick
  • After handling animals
  • After smoking
  • When you get home or arrive at another venue.

How to wash hands properly

It’s important to wash your hands thoroughly using the proper technique to ensure maximum effectiveness.

Aim to rub soap everywhere, including the back of your hands, wrists, between fingers and under fingernails. If possible, remove any jewellery first. Otherwise, move rings around during the handwashing process to ensure soap gets underneath.

Follow these steps to wash your hands properly:

  1. Wet your hands under running water.
  2. Lather your hands with soap, rubbing palms together.
  3. Place your right hand on your left, interlacing your fingers and rub. Repeat with the left hand on top.
  4. Rub your hands palm to palm with your fingers interlaced.
  5. Interlink your fingers, with the backs of your fingers in the opposite palm.
  6. Clasp your left thumb in your right hand and rub. Repeat with your right thumb in your left hand.
  7. Clasp your left fingers together and rub in a circular motion on your right palm. Repeat with right fingers clasped.
  8. Rinse your hands under running water until all soap is removed.
  9. Dry your hands using a clean towel or paper towel. You can also air dry your hands or use a hand dryer.

Drying your hands is important. Your hands may still be contaminated if wet as organisms are more easily transferred on wet surfaces.

When to use alcohol hand sanitisers

In non-healthcare settings washing your hands with water and soap is the most effective method of reducing the number of microorganisms on your hands.

If there’s no access to running water and soap, alcohol-based hand sanitisers such as Aerocleanse anti-bacterial hand gel can be used. However, you shouldn’t use hand sanitiser if your hands are visibly dirty as this can reduce the effectiveness of the sanitiser.

Alcohol-based hand sanitisers with a higher alcohol content are more effective at removing harmful microorganisms. You should only use sanitisers with at least 60% alcohol content.

Hand sanitisers are a quick and effective way to remove some types of microbes, but they are not effective at killing all germs. For example, they can’t protect you from gastroenteritis (stomach flu).

How to use alcohol hand sanitisers

Apply the hand sanitiser to the palm of one hand. Refer to the product instructions to determine how much is needed.

Rub the product over your entire hands, including between fingers, on the back of your hands, on your wrists and under jewellery. Keep rubbing until your hands are dry.

Hand hygiene for healthcare professionals

In healthcare settings, good hand hygiene is particularly important. Patients are more vulnerable to catching an infection when a healthcare professional has not washed their hands. For some patients, an infection can have serious health consequences, and may even be fatal.

In healthcare settings, using an alcohol based hand rub is the preferred method for reducing the number of germs on the hands. You should use a hand rub before and after touching a patient, body fluids or contaminated surfaces.

However, if your hands are visibly soiled or if you have been dealing with a patient who has diarrhoea, you should wash your hands with soap and water.

Improving hand hygiene in the workplace

Good hand hygiene in the workplace is important for preventing the spread of infectious diseases and harmful microorganisms. Promoting a healthy work culture can help protect employees and customers and their families.

Some ways to encourage good hand hygiene in the workplace include:

  • Provide liquid hand wash and a hand drying method such as paper towels or a hand dryer
  • Consider touch free taps, dryers andsanitiser dispensers
  • Place hand sanitisers with at least 60% alcohol in frequently used areas such as meeting rooms, checkout counters and near elevators
  • Place instructional posters in bathrooms and kitchens
  • Use pedal bins that can be activated without the use of hands
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces regularly with hard surface disinfectant wipes.

Everyone should practice good hand hygiene

Whether you’re a business owner, healthcare professional, team member or stay-at-home parent, everyone should practice good hand hygiene. It not only helps reduce your chances of catching an infection, it also helps protect your colleagues, family members and housemates.