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2001 National Cleaning Survey

A new national survey conducted for The Soap and Detergent Association finds that many American workers don't wash their hands long enough or often enough during the workday. And many employers don't do enough to encourage hand washing in the workplace.

Just Five More Seconds!
Survey Reveals Poor HandWashing in the Workplace

SDA 2001 Cleaning Survey
Key Findings

 

When To Wash Your Hands In the Workplace
Simple Reminders From SDA

Proper Steps To Good Hygiene
Washing Your Hands The Right Way

Just Five More Seconds!

Survey Reveals Poor Hand Washing in the Workplace

Washington, DC, November 7, 2001 – As the cold and flu season arrives, many of us use common sense cleaning practices to defend the family against harmful germs, but what about the place we spend most of our waking hours – work? A new survey released today by The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) reveals that the workplace is often a weak link in the fight to prevent the contraction and spread of infectious diseases.

According to the 2001 SDA National Cleaning Survey -- available at www.cleaning101.com -- a significant population of American workers (40 percent) neither washes their hands often enough nor long enough. In addition, the survey found most employers (58 percent) don’t encourage hand washing in the workplace.

Hand washing is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as one of the most important means of preventing germs from spreading. Americans spend billions of dollars annually battling colds and flu, through medical treatments and doctor visits. On the flu alone, Americans spend $1.3 billion on direct medical costs. Lost productivity in the workplace can add another $15 billion to the annual tab.[i]

“While most people can employ good cleaning habits, antibacterial products and disinfectants to fight germs at home, they have much less control over their work environment,” said Nancy Bock, SDA’s Director of Consumer Affairs.. That makes proper hand washing the first line of defense against germs in the workplace.

“Washing often, about five or more times a day, is the first step. But you also need to wash your hands the right way, washing thoroughly with soap and water for at least 15 seconds.”

Where people work appears to affect hand washing practices as well. The survey shows that 65 percent of maintenance and construction workers and 47 percent of office and customer service workers wash their hands less than five times a day. Half of the workers in these two groups (50 percent and 51 percent, respectively) don’t wash their hands long enough either – 10 seconds or less. Medical and food service workers, on the other hand, are significantly more diligent about hand hygiene. A substantial majority washes their hands seven or more times a day (medical employees: 86 percent, food service employees: 68 percent) and for 15 seconds or more (medical employees: 69 percent, food service employees: 76 percent).

CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds. With many workers washing their hands ten seconds or less, the Soap and Detergent Association suggests a simple reminder when stepping up to the sink: “Just Five More Seconds.”

“Hand washing is a professional responsibility that should be done routinely in the workplace,” said Bock. “Proper hand washing is just plain common sense. Taking 15 seconds to do it properly is an easy, effective infection control measure no matter where you work.”

The SDA survey suggests employers could be doing more to encourage hand washing. While 93 percent of employers keep their bathrooms and washrooms stocked with soap and towels, only 41 percent post hand washing reminders. Again, where you work plays a part – 73 percent of offices and customer service facilities and 74 percent of maintenance and construction operations post no signs reminding workers to wash their hands. The greatest encouragement came from food service facilities (88 percent) and medical facilities (67 percent) whose employees also showed the strongest performance in proper hand washing.

The good news is this poor hygiene trend can be reversed, according to Bock. “A key ingredient to improving hand washing in the workplace is better encouragement from employers. Simple reminder signs in bathrooms, kitchens and other community areas dramatically improve compliance."

The survey also suggests there is a direct correlation between encouragement and compliance. In the businesses that post hand washing reminders, 72 percent of employees wash their hands five or more times a day. In fact, 38 percent wash their hands more than 10 times a day.

Following are quick tips recommended by the SDA and are available on www.cleaning101.com.

Recommendations: When To Wash Hands At The Workplace

  • Each time you use the restroom
  • Before and after staff meetings if food is served
  • After scanning newspapers or magazines in your break room
  • Before and after your lunch
  • After using your friend’s keyboard or tools
  • Before and after a meet and greet activity in your office
  • When using shared office equipment like faxes, phones, etc.

Proper Steps To Good Hygiene: Washing Your Hands the Right Way

  1. Wet hands with warm running water prior to reaching for soap, either in bar or liquid form.
  2. Rub hands together to make a lather. Do this away from running water, so the lather isn’t washed away.
  3. Wash the front and back of hands, between fingers and under nails. Continue washing for 20 seconds or more.
  4. Rinse hands well under warm running water.
  5. Dry hands thoroughly with a clean towel or air dryer.

Alcohol based hand sanitizers or gels or antibacterial wipes are useful alternatives if soap and water are not available (for example, when traveling in the car or taxi on the way to a business meeting, before eating an in-flight meal or snack, outdoor work settings, etc.)

The 2001 SDA National Cleaning Survey was based on telephone interviews conducted using a national sample of 1013 adult Americans, 18 years and older. The survey was performed by Opinion Research Corporation International.

Survey Key Findings

Workplace Hygiene Needs Improvement

  • 40 percent of American employees don’t wash their hands long enough – 15 seconds or more.
  • 40 percent of American workers don’t wash their hands often enough. (At least five times daily)
  • 58 percent of American employers don’t post hand washing reminder signs in bathrooms and kitchens.

Bad Habits Continue

  • 73 percent of offices and customer service facilities and 74 percent of maintenance and construction operations do not post signs to remind their employees to wash their hands.
  • 65 percent of maintenance and construction workers and 47 percent of office and customer service workers don’t wash their hands often enough.
  • Approximately 50 percent of maintenance and construction workers don’t wash their hands long enough.

Encouragement Works

  • 72 percent of U.S. workers wash their hands five or more times a day when their employers post hand washing signs.
  • 88 percent of food service facilities and 67 percent of medical facilities post signs encouraging employee hand washing.
  • 86 percent of medical employees and 68 percent of food service employees wash their hands five or more times a day.

Annual U.S. Economic Costs For Colds and Flu

  • $10 - $15 billion spent on sick days and lost earnings
  • $6.3 billion spent on treatments and medical visits

For more information on useful hand washing tips, as well as guidance for proper usage of laundry detergents and household cleaning products, visit SDA’s Web site at www.cleaning101.com.

The 2001 SDA National Cleaning Survey was based on telephone interviews conducted using a national sample of 1013 adult Americans, 18 years and older. The survey was performed by Opinion Research Corporation International.