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Workplace Wellness: How to Use Hand Sanitizer to Prevent the Flu

Published January 25, 2016

It’s hard to believe, but one routine act has a tremendous impact on the spread of flu in the workplace. The simple-but-effective tactic? Keeping your hands clean.

“There’s nothing more essential than good hand hygiene –– handwashing and the use of a hand sanitizer,” counsels Charles Gerba, PhD, a University of Arizona professor of microbiology and environmental sciences who studies the transmission of pathogens through the environment.

In fact, clean hands reduce the risk for colds and other respiratory illnesses by 21 percent, and the number of people who get sick by 31 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A thorough washing with soap and water does the trick, but when a restroom or other handwashing station isn’t available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are an effective alternative for eliminating most of the germs that exist on the hands. 

How to Choose a Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizers come in a variety of formulas and forms: scented/unscented, foam, gel, wipes, etc. Some scents can be strong, so gauge employee sensitivity before selecting. Pick a form (gel, wipe, etc.) that makes the most sense for your work environment. Then choose a product with at least 60-percent alcohol content for the highest effectiveness. You may also want to make fragrance-free moisturizing lotion available, as alcohol-based hand sanitizers can dry out hands.

How to Maximize the Effectiveness of Hand Sanitizer

To get the most out of hand sanitizer, educate yourself and your employees on proper technique:

  • Make sure hands aren’t visibly soiled. If your hands are very dirty or greasy, the hand sanitizer can’t penetrate the grime to kill the germs. Get your hands as unsoiled and dry as possible before applying product.
  • Use enough product. Killing germs is not a less-is-more situation. To get the best results, completely coat the front and back of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  • Rub it in. Don’t wipe your hands dry! Rubbing and air-drying are key factors in the germ-killing process that many of us overlook. Be patient and make sure the product is absorbed and your hands are dry before going to your next task. 

Bonus Tip: In a pinch, Gerba says, “You can stay healthy by wiping down high-touch areas, such as counters, doorknobs and desktops, with hand sanitizer.” Check out other office health hacks.

How to Improve Hand Hygiene

A clean hands initiative is a great strategy to reduce the impact of the flu and other germs on your business. Use staff meetings, emails and posters or flyers to illustrate proper technique. Create procedures like hand cleaning before and after group meetings to build healthier workplace habits together. And always keep plenty of hand cleaning products in stock and easily accessible.

Combine hand cleaning with other flu-prevention techniques (including encouraging flu vaccines) to improve workplace wellness and keep your employees healthy and productive.

This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and should not be considered as offering individualized medical advice.

Updated January 2016

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