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The History of Hand Washing Compliance

November 26,2014| by Paul Barnhill

Handwashing


Hands and History

The definition of hygiene would be different in each century you go back to over the course of human history. For a Roman of the first century, cleanliness meant soaking for hours in baths of various temperatures, scraping the body with a metal scraping blade, and applying olive oil to the skin.

While in the late 19th century, few apartments had bathrooms of their own, and many did not even have toilets, much less sinks and bathtubs. A bathroom was considered a luxury. According to Canadian Living, in 1908 the Hotel Statler became the first to offer every room with a bath for the modest price of $1.50.

Today, cleanliness is taken for granted, despite only being a few generations removed from a time when disease killed so many, and epidemiology was poorly understood.

Dirt and Disease

While germ theory is not even 200 years old, the ancient Babylonians understood that cleanliness had a bearing on the spread of disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, an ancient Mesopotamian text explains the sickness of a patient by saying, “He has come into contact with a woman of unclean hands, or his hands have touched one of unclean body.”

The father of modern germ theory, Ignaz Semmelweis, even had a difficult time convincing the physicians of his era to wash their hands after an autopsy. In fact, it was not until the 1980s that the first national hand hygiene guidelines were published by the CDC. And it was not until 1996 that antimicrobial soaps were recommended for hand washing after treating patients with multidrug-resistant pathogens. But the overuse and misuse of antibiotics has led to many previously treatable infections becoming highly resistant to successive antibiotics.

Big Bad Bugs

At times it seems as if the proliferation of contagious diseases is outstripping our ability to contain them. From the common cold to the terrors of the Ebola virus (or the proliferation of multidrug-resistant pathogens such as MRSA and tuberculosis), it’s hard to believe that the most effective line of defense is a simple policy of hand washing compliance. Not many people consider soap and water to be a technology, yet it is only recently that it became widely available and understood as the front line against contagious disease.

From a bar of soap next to a sink to the most technologically advanced hygienic systems used in food production facilities, healthcare facilities, pharmaceutical production, and other industries, policies that tell employees when to wash their hands and for how long have prevented untold infections. The lessons that we all learned in kindergarten about washing our hands are finally being translated into action.

Making a Change

A hand washing compliance policy for your company and industry can also help you decrease absenteeism due to illness and keep your workforce healthy, as well as protect your customers and clients. Consulting with a hygienic equipment company will give you valuable insight when it comes to buying equipment, setting policy, and working towards staff compliance.

Whether you need something as simple as a manual hand washing station, or a complex automated hand washing and boot scrubbing system, you will see the benefits very quickly: a healthier workforce, fewer sick days needed, and less transmission of infectious agents. A reminder to your staff that following hand hygiene guidelines is very simple and will be the first step to achieving compliance.

 

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