Hand Hygiene 101

We’ve written a lot about hand hygiene in the past few months. While it might seem like a lot about the same thing, we can’t say enough how crucial it is in aged care. It is the cheapest and easiest tool you have in your infection control toolbox.

At the risk of leaving the most important points scattered across multiple blogs, we thought we’d bring it all together in one place. This post, Hand Hygiene 101, we just wanted to summarise this year’s blog posts about handwashing and infection prevention.

1. Effective hand hygiene reduces infections

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control: “Eighty percent of common infections are spread by hands.” When you consider how many times in a day caregivers are touching residents while giving care, this isn't surprising. This is what makes hand hygiene such an effective way to reduce common infections in aged care, particularly gastroenteritis and CAUTIs (cathether-associated urinary tract infections). But how to best use it to combat HAIs? By making sure that you, and caregivers in your facility, observe the 5 Moments of Hand Hygiene.

2. Compliance is improving, but there is more work to be done

Speaking of the 5 Moments of Hand Hygiene, do you know when they were first developed? It was only in 2009, meaning that they’re just over ten years old. Hand hygiene compliance has been improving steadily since then, with compliance rates in New Zealand increasing from 60% in 2012 to 86.8% in 2020. The challenge for most facilities now is to reinforce understanding of the 5 Moments, and to ensure that staff are engaging in effective hand hygiene at every moment (according to the framework) that it is required.

Our blog post on compliance has some great advice on how to improve compliance, but essentially staff need to know two things: how to effectively wash or sanitise their hands, and when they should be doing it.

3. Four quick ways to improve hand hygiene

Everyone has seen the WHO and HHA/HHNZ posters about proper handwashing technique, but they often become a part of the furniture. People stop paying attention to them, and most people aren’t checking their technique after their fifth (or more) handwash of the day. In this blog post from earlier this year, we gave four quick and easy tips for improving hand hygiene:

  1. Wash/rub your hands for longer
  2. Wash/rub more vigorously
  3. Remove obstacles instead of working around them
  4. Dry your hands properly

4. Hand drying is also important

It’s simple: wet hands increase the risk of microorganism transmission. Walking around with wet hands is the same as having dirty hands, so you need to ensure they are dried properly. Our blog post earlier this year reached an easy conclusion: paper towel is better than hand dryers. But remember that individual paper towels are better than continuous rollers (like you might have in your kitchen area), as the end of continuous paper rolls can be a contamination risk. Don’t forget that used paper towels are also a potential infection risk, so ensure that there are lidded bins near all paper towel dispensers.

5. Healthy hands are happy hands

Maintaining a pathogen-free hand surface is important, but don’t forget that intact skin is also a big part of stopping infections. Soap and ABHR are drying and can cause contact dermatitis. Dry skin also has a higher chance of cracking, which increases the risk of disease transmission. Taking good care of your hands in and out of work makes a big difference — don’t be afraid to moisturise several times a day.

Hand Hygiene Australia suggests:

  • Using a hand hygiene product that contains skin emollient (i.e. a moisturiser).
  • Educating staff on the correct use of hand hygiene products.
  • Educating staff on caring for their hands, including regular use of skin moisturisers both at work. You should moisturise your hands 3 times during your shift), and at home.
  • Management providing a supportive attitude and ensuring staff have the correct products to perform effective and safe hand hygiene.
  • Providing a supportive attitude towards staff with skin problems.

Infection prevention is crucial in aged care, and hand hygiene is one of the cheapest and easiest ways we have to curb infection spread. Hand hygiene keeps not only your residents safe, but also your staff and their families as well. And while it might seem easy to do, the more you start thinking about it, the more questions you have. For more information about hand hygiene, cleaning, AMS or anything infection control related, try our one-month free IPC Lead Coaching Program trial. You’ll be given education resources and the opportunity to join our monthly education and Q&A forum.