Numerous studies over the years have shown how effective hand washing can be in minimizing the spread of disease. As such, various federal, state, and local laws require all sorts of employees to wash their hands after certain activities – like using the restroom. In the healthcare arena, hand washing falls under the purview of what are known as universal precautions.
The universal precautions concept was implemented to take standard precautions for avoiding the transfer of blood-borne pathogens to the next level. It involves a whole host of practices including wearing protective clothing whenever the risk of coming in contact with bodily fluids is present.
Other industries are obviously not required to follow universal precautions. However, it wouldn’t hurt to adopt a similar mindset. The more cautious people are, the better off for everyone. This is why hand washing gets so much press.
History of Universal Precautions
Universal precautions were adopted in the U.S. healthcare system in the late 1980s. Prior to their adoption, a protocol of standard precautions was the general rule. These precautions were designed to protect clinicians from two types of pathogens: airborne and blood borne. They included things like donning surgical gowns and masks under prescribed conditions.
With the rise of HIV in the 1980s, it was thought that standard precautions were not good enough. Thus, universal precautions were developed. The new precautions were designed to prevent the spread of HIV. In hindsight, they prevented the spread of a lot more.
Modern Universal Precautions
The fear of infectious disease has been assuaged a bit from the days when doctors assumed every patient could be an HIV carrier. Thanks to a better understanding of how certain diseases are transmitted, we are still cautious but not paranoid. Modern universal precautions reflect that.
Universal precautions involve both equipment and practices. For example, barrier gowns, gloves, and face shields are all standard in surgical suites. Non-equipment precautions are more about policy and practice. This is where hand washing comes in.
Alsco, a nationwide linen, uniform, and washroom supplies provider, makes it a point to educate clients about the importance of hand washing. They cite studies showing how effective regular hand washing is in defeating the spread of sickness. For example, regular hand washing can reduce the risk of spreading the flu virus.
An Easy Precaution
One of the best aspects of hand washing as a precaution against disease is that it is so easy. It takes very little effort or time to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water. You do not need any special training. You do not need a college degree. You do not even need a pristine, surgical suite and washroom to get your hands clean.
It only takes a minute or two to do the job right. All you need is some hand soap, warm water, and a towel to dry your hands afterward. If hand washing were a stock you could buy on the New York Stock Exchange, it would give you one of the best returns on your dollar.
Handwashing is no longer an option for the healthcare industry. Clinicians are required to wash their hands under certain conditions. Many of them are required to use hand sanitizer just before treating a patient. In food service, hand washing is also not optional. Employees must wash after using the toilet and handling certain kinds of foods.
The practice of regular hand washing is important in a variety of industries ranging from childcare to cosmetology. It is a big part of the universal precautions required to keep healthcare facilities safe. Need anything more be said?