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Hand sanitisers: essential protection or another COVID-19 myth?

Daryl Wing

On 11 January 2020, health authorities in China reported that a 61-year-old man from Wuhan had died from a new type of coronavirus. Many feared an outbreak similar to that of SARS in 2002, including government advisors. Unfortunately, many also didn’t believe the virus was real, such as leading figures and key decision-makers in countries across the globe. 

Amazingly, more than 14 months on, there are still doubters. Division and disharmony has never been more evident. Experts in virology, epidemiology and infectious disease have been battling against fake-news spreaders to conspiracy theorists, whose only expertise is to set up a Twitter account, hide behind a fake photo and broadcast misinformation.   

The bleak and heartbreaking figures should be enough to silence the non-believers, but they won’t. Since that fateful day at the beginning of January 2020, life has changed beyond comprehension. With over 114 million confirmed cases and 2.5 million deaths by the beginning of March 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of disastrous.   

Are we past the worst of it? Lockdowns and vaccination programmes have certainly slowed the spread of COVID-19 in some countries, but it could be a little premature to think the pandemic will be over any time soon.  

COVID-19: what has worked? 

Until an international scientific team is allowed to conduct a full investigation to determine what really happened, we shouldn’t assume that the virus has escaped from a lab. And it wasn’t engineered as a bioweapon. We also know that vaccinations are turning the tide. The UK became the first country in the world to approve a Covid-19 vaccine on 2 December 2020. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was rolled out just six days later.

The UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, recently admitted that masks – vital for reducing the spread of coronavirus droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking – were one of the main lessons learned from the pandemic. The UK wasn’t alone. The number of governments across the world recommending face coverings increased dramatically over the first six months of the pandemic.

Face coverings were later made mandatory by law on public transport, followed by shops and supermarkets. Social distancing also helped to prevent the transmission of infection. But keeping a safe distance apart wasn’t enough. Research showed that the smallest particles of the virus could travel farther and remain airborne for much longer than previously thought. 

This means air hygiene is a crucial factor in protecting people in indoor environments and should be considered when businesses draw up plans to help prevent transmission of COVID-19.  As should hand hygiene – an essential way of protecting people from person-to-person transmission via hand contact and contaminated surfaces. 

Frequently touched surfaces can quickly become contaminated if no action is taken. Every area in a business, therefore, should be disinfected and cleaned thoroughly and regularly. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before rinsing and drying. If handwashing facilities aren’t available, another recommended solution is hand sanitiser.

How does hand sanitiser protect you from COVID-19?

Before COVID-19, according to market analysts Arizton Advisory and Intelligence, the world produced less than three billion litres of hand sanitiser per year. At the beginning of the pandemic, WHO expected 2.9 billion litres of sanitiser per month to be required by healthcare professionals alone – about 35 billion litres per year.

The demand for hand sanitising products outstripped supplies, leading to the distribution and sale of millions of fake and potentially dangerous products. Which products work? Alcohol-based hand sanitiser kills bacteria by disrupting its cell membrane. The percentage of alcohol present in hand sanitiser is important to its efficacy those with less than 60% alcohol will be less effective at killing microorganisms and will just reduce their growth. 

Hand sanitiser that doesn’t contain alcohol often includes benzalkonium chloride or chlorhexidine instead. These hand sanitisers can be more effective than alcohol-based sanitisers and will not cause irritation after repeated use.

What are people’s experiences and preferences for hand sanitisers?

Initial Hygiene ran a hand sanitiser survey from December 2020 until January 2021 to investigate experiences using hand sanitisers in public spaces across 26 countries. Almost nine out of ten people (87%) thought hand sanitiser had a critical role to play in preventing the spread of viruses.

Around half of the respondents (52%) had good experiences with hand sanitisers. For those who didn’t (48%), the most common negative factors were:

  • not knowing if they will have a good sanitiser experience
  • sanitiser stations that were poorly stocked or maintained 
  • the sanitiser having an unpleasant smell or feel

One of the most interesting questions from the survey was whether respondents trusted others to follow guidelines during the pandemic.  

Do people use hand sanitisers before entering a public space?

Social trust is everything. We’d like to believe that most of the time people will try and help others rather than simply looking after ourselves. Many recent events have challenged this. Unsurprisingly, respondents felt that only about half of the public sanitised their hands when entering public places. 

This, of course, could be a huge problem. Should a business educate its customers and employees on the benefits of good hand hygiene? A recent article in Forbes suggests that hygiene, not just cleanliness, is our new definition of safety and visible reassurance shows consumers and employees that a brand is prepared to put its people first. 

Hand sanitisers placed in and around areas such as entrances and exits, washrooms and other high-traffic areas will help to stop the spread of germs and encourage better habits among staff. Therefore, it’s every employee’s responsibility to consider the impact good hand-hygiene can have on colleagues. 

What type of dispenser do people prefer?

When you last visited a shop or supermarket, what sanitiser were they using? Many businesses, especially smaller ones, simply have a bottle of hand sanitiser on a table. If you’re worried about touching the top of a bottle that’s clearly been used by someone before you, you’re not alone. It’s one of the reasons why more than eight out of ten people (84%) preferred a no-touch dispenser in our survey.

Whether it just feels safer somehow or you believe that touching a bottle defeats the purpose, automatic no-touch sanitisers help to promote hand hygiene by eliminating the need for contact and – subsequently – the spread of germs

The same can be said for no-touch paper and linen dispensers to dry hands. Drying hands is equally important in the fight against germ transmission. By reducing the amount of moisture and microorganisms left on the hands after washing, we lower the risk of recontamination. 

But what happens when we’re leaving a building or a room inside it? It isn’t long before clean hands come into contact with possible contaminated surfaces, such as door handles. Antibacterial hygienic door handles can provide a barrier between clean hands and dirty door handles, further preventing cross-contamination.

What type of sanitiser do people prefer – alcohol or non-alcohol?

Despite a healthy seven out of ten (71%) people preferring an alcohol-based sanitiser, it can be argued that many people haven’t been made aware of other sanitisers that are just as effective at inactivating coronavirus. For example, Initial’s UltraProtect is 99.99% effective. The most popular type of hand sanitiser, alcohol-based or non-alcohol, is gel (46%), followed by spray (31%) and then foam (23%).

What do people now expect a business to provide its staff and customers?

According to a survey published by The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 44% of employees agreed they felt anxious about returning to their workplace because of COVID-19. In a poll carried out by Rentokil Initial during the lockdown period: 

  • 87% expect their company to provide them with hand sanitiser
  • 65% of respondents expect their company to provide regular disinfection services
  • 50% believe their office should be cleaned once a day
  • only 9% of respondents did not expect to continue to follow social distancing guidelines when returning to work

In our hand sanitiser survey, nearly nine out of ten people (86%) also thought companies should provide hand sanitiser, whether they worked there or not. Almost half (46%) believed that companies should provide face masks, self-service disinfection products and an air care system.

Initial’s self-service disinfection products sanitise touchpoints, surfaces, equipment and floors with solutions that include a range of sprays and wipes that can kill pathogens and prevent cross-contamination.

Because COVID-19 can linger in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, air hygiene is recommended as an essential measure to prevent transmission. Initial’s air care range includes the following solutions.

  • InspireAir 72 HEPA13 removes over 99.95% of airborne particles 0.3 microns in size or larger for healthier indoor surroundings.
  • Biozone reduces bacteria in the air and combats bad odours that can make an environment seem unclean.
  • EcoBreeze filters, cleans and fragrances the air in washrooms to maintain a pleasant-smelling experience for guests.  

What should your business do next?

Initial’s survey also provided a unique insight into how our respondents feel about the current pandemic. While many agreed that businesses should provide hygiene solutions, others believed that hygiene is a person’s own responsibility, expected businesses to be allowed to open without restrictions and insisted that we should just wash our hands and stay at home if we’re sick. 

If only it was that simple. At the end of the day, for any business, reassurance that measures have been taken to minimise the risk of cross-contamination is crucial. If you put your customers first, you’ll go some way to creating a positive impression of your company’s brand.

Our award-winning integrated solutions will help to take care of your people and safeguard your business. Find out more about keeping your staff and customers safe.

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Daryl Wing
Daryl Wing

Daryl Wing studied Scripting for Film and Television at Bournemouth University before starting his career working on Fireman Sam scripts for television. He is an experienced copywriter, who enjoys writing children's literature, watching football, and eating chocolate. He firmly believes that as long as there’s Star Wars, there’s hope.

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