By Ronald J. Chappuis, VP of Healthcare Marketing, North America, SC Johnson Professional
Cold, dry winter months can wreak havoc on skin, especially the hands. For workers in healthcare environments, frequent handwashing is a must in order to keep the transfer of infections at bay. However, repetitive handwashing can lead to an increase of contact dermatitis, a common skin condition marked by scaling, redness, itching and burning. Among healthcare workers, those who washed their hands more than 10 times per day were more likely to develop the condition than those who washed their hands less frequently.
Dermatitis among healthcare workers can pose a risk to both the employees themselves and patients, as they may choose to wash their hands less often due to pain or soreness.
Damaged, exposed skin due to contact dermatitis can not only lead to a higher risk of infection for workers, but can also lead to a higher risk of transmission of dangerous pathogens between worker and patient.
Beyond cosmetic concerns, dermatitis can become a financial burden to both the employee and the employer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that occupational skin disorders are the most common type of workplace illness, with estimated costs (including time away from work, reduced productivity and workers compensation claims) exceeding $1 billion annually. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, just one case of occupational dermatitis can cost an employer approximately $3,500 in workers’ compensation claims and an average disability of 23.9 days.
Healthy Hand Hygiene
While choosing to wash your hands less frequently isn’t an option in healthcare settings, there are still ways to combat the risk of contact dermatitis amid frigid temperatures. Healthcare facilities can take the following measures to help protect workers’ hands and educate staff on the importance of skin health to keep employees healthy and happy year-round:
- Provide high-quality hand soap to keep hands from drying and cracking easily, and encourage employees to run hands under warm water instead of hot or cold.
- Offer high-quality skin creams and moisturizers to help employees combat sore, damaged skin. To keep hands as strong and healthy as possible, employees should be given protect and restore creams to apply after handwashing. These types of creams improve skin strength by moisturizing, nourishing and conditioning.
- Educate employees on the importance of using hand lotions that are formulated for healthcare use, and advise against the use of personal hand lotions while at work. Not all hand lotions are tested for compatibility with certain antibacterial washes as rigorously as hospital-grade products, and many common ingredients found in these lotions contain mineral oil and petroleum which have been known to cause the deterioration of latex gloves[i].
- Allocate appropriate skincare products in areas that healthcare workers frequent to encourage daily use. Creams and soaps should be placed in key areas like restrooms, entrances, changing rooms and hand washing stations.
With the proper education and tools, healthcare facilities can easily combat the increased risk of contact dermatitis during cold winter months. It’s crucial for these facilities to invest in proper soaps and creams to keep employees’ hands as healthy as possible for the benefit and well-being of their patients as well as themselves.
[i] WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care: First Global Patient Safety Challenge Clean Care is Safer Care