Hand hygiene, and gloves too!

By Ian Blenkharn, Blenkharn Environmental

Hand hygiene is universally important and the waste sector is no exception. Though we might repeatedly instruct employees and temporary staff to wash hands the frequency and timing of handwashing, and how well hands are washed and dried, are hugely important. Roundsmen are at a disadvantage as few collection vehicles have on-board handwash stations; alcohol hand rub is the common alternative but has only limited efficacy on heavily soiled hands.

Using forensic blood detection techniques to study hygiene standards among contractors handling healthcare wastes, blood traces were found on the gloves and forearms of almost all staff. Though gloves were removed for rest periods and before entry to vehicle cabs, blood was found on cab door handles and steering wheels, and on the dashboard, of several vehicles. Back at base, blood residues were detected on staff room chairs and tables, and on the handle of the kettle!

Employers have a duty to equip staff with all necessary hygiene/PPE items, to give and to periodically reinforce instruction. Performance audit is essential. It was found that the root problem was staff removing gloves, as instructed, but failing to wash hands and forearms. Worse, cost-related restrictions on replacement gloves issue encouraged staff to keep gloves with them at all times, contaminating hands and all hard surfaces that they touched thereafter. Hand washing was infrequent. It is common to see community waste collection vehicles having soiled gloves, drinks cans and coffee cups, and sandwich wrappers, piled on the dashboard. Decaying food, nappies and worse taste no better, and the risks no fewer, when mixed with a bacon roll and mug of tea. Employers might start with a basket or similar to keep gloves outside the vehicle cab, and a plentiful supply of medicated wet wipes.