- OSHA Healthcare Advisor - http://blogs.hcpro.com/osha -

Notes from the field: The sound of no hands washing

Last week as I was doing a mock OSHA inspection I saw several employees standing by the restroom door listening to the activities going on in the restroom.

As I tried to control my response to this comical picture, I whispered the question “why are you standing outside this door?”

The response: they were listening to see if this very prominent physician washed his hands before coming out of the restroom.

I motioned them to follow me to the break room and tell me what was going on. They didn’t think this physician washed his hands at all, during the day. They never heard the water running in the restroom or exam rooms.

That led to a discussion on the OSHA requirement to wash hands after using the restroom, before/after each patient encounter, and when removing gloves. The staff was very concerned about the issue.

I felt inclined to speak to this physician, and once I did, the mystery was solved. The soap in the restroom and exam rooms was “regular” soap not antibacterial. The physician felt he should be using antibacterial soap, therefore he carried a small bottle of antibacterial gel in his pocket. What a relief!

Many of us scrub with antibacterial soaps assuming they are better at killing our microbial enemies, but those antibacterial soaps are no better than regular soap at killing germs. The gels are approved for use when regular soap and water are not available. I explained to him that the latest FDA studies have shown there is really no advantage to antibacterial soap.

“Popular antibacterial soaps and washes are no more effective at preventing illness than plain (and less expensive) soap and water,” an FDA advisory panel warned.

I assured the physician the regular soap and water was fine for the purpose of hand hygiene and controlling the spread of germs.

Regardless of the type of soap that you use, scrub for at least 15 seconds.

Editor’s note: Download a free pictorial guide to hand hygiene technique with alcohol-based formulation from the OSHA Healthcare Advisor Tools page. [1]