4 July 2016

Does Soap And Water Clean Up Gloves?

We all know how important it is to look after your hands – especially keeping them clean. But what’s the best route to hand hygiene? Wearing a quality pair of gloves is a great start, as it keeps dirt and contaminants off your hands in the first place. However that’s not always possible. We’ve tracked down a report from the Health and Safety Executive that looks at the most effective ways of hand washing.

Studying outdoor contaminants

The report was titled: “A review of the data on efficacy of handcleaning products in industrial use as alternatives to handwashing.” It looked at all the information currently available on the alternatives to soap and water for hand washing. The data was studied in the context of removing the sort of contamination found in a range of outdoor activities, workplaces and related environments. Special attention paid to commercial waste and recycling activity, outdoor activities, construction sites and other work away from permanent welfare facilities.
The idea was to find existing literature that used soap and water as a benchmark for comparing alternative hand cleansing methods. The HSE wanted to use data that came from use ‘in the field’ rather than in the lab.

Some surprising findings

The majority of data was derived from studies of efficacy applicable to the healthcare sector, rather than for agriculture, waste or leisure applications. While some of this information was not directly relevant, there were aspects of hand hygiene approaches that were relevant to industrial work environments such as construction, waste and recycling.
From these, they drew the following conclusions:

  • The use of soap and warm running water for hand washing is an effective method for reducing the levels of hand borne microbiological contamination. Medicated soaps are not essential, although these can be even more effective.
  • Maybe surprisingly, soap and cold running water was also shown to be effective, and only slightly less so than soap and warm water. The problem with cold water washing is that it doesn’t encourage people to wash their hands during winter conditions e.g. at remote facilities on farms or on construction sites. So it’s not a method that can be relied on.
  • Alcohol preparations, based on either gels or liquid hand rubs, can offer a significant reduction in microbiological hand contamination. However, these should be used carefully as their effectiveness depends on the visible (physical) soiling of the hands. In other words, the more dirt you can see, the less effective alcohol preparations will be. The ‘dose’ used is also critical - at least 3 ml of product should be applied, although any more than 4 ml doesn’t increase efficacy. Basically it should be enough so that a film of liquid product can be felt to cover the skin of the hands.
  • Hand wipes impregnated with alcohol and/or some additional disinfectant products were shown to reduce hand contamination. This may be through physical removal of contaminants – which can be helpful when soap and water are unavailable. However, the degree of disinfection is highly dependent on the concentrations, the type of active chemicals present and the way the wipe is used.

What does this mean to you?

The HSE report suggests that these are the best hand hygiene methods in order of effectiveness:

  1. Washing hands with soap and warm water
  2. Washing hands with soap and cold water
  3. Rinsing hands with water alone
  4. Wiping hands with moistened wipes
  5. Using hand rubs or gels

For more information about the best way to protect your operatives’ hands in any situation please contact us.

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