I read a piece in the paper recently about how washing our hands properly – by following the 5-step guide to effective hand washing – could be vital not just for our own or our family’s health, but for that of the country and even the species.
Colds, flu, gastroenteric bugs, even ‘man-flu’ – they’re all hanging around on our hands and every time we touch something or someone there’s a chance that we’ll pass on a bug. Research concludes that only one in five of us washes our hands when we should. I guess that means before and after cooking, eating, going to the loo, using a keyboard, sneezing, coughing, touching other people… In fact touching, or even thinking of touching, anything at all.
This has become a serious issue in hospitals where one in 16 NHS patients ends up with a hospital-acquired infection (according to NICE). Hospitals are meant to be sterile, safe places where we get better, while thousands of patients each year actually end up sicker through systemic poor hygiene habits. Some types of superbug can live for years on hospital surfaces. On a trip last week with my son to the Emergency Department, I noted that the doctor who treated him didn’t wash her hands before or after touching him, the bed rails and the other equipment in the room. She did a great job doctor-wise apart from the potential infection-spreading.
This year in our studio we’ve been designing infection control graphics for healthcare environments – we’ve integrated visual communications onto hospital walls to encourage patients and visitors to wash their hands. We’re adapting the design to remind the busy medical staff too and we’ll measure the effectiveness to check it’s working for everyone.
Sir David Brailsford famously transformed British Cycling’s fortunes with his concept of ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’. His belief was that if you improve every area related to cycling by just 1% then those gains would add up to remarkable improvement. And teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection and illness was one area that led to success.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray carries hand sanitiser gel in his pocket and uses it every time he shakes hands as a precaution against catching bugs that might interfere with his optimum health and performance.
So what can we all do to save the world?
Global Handwashing Day is on 15 October… It’s not the most inspiring-sounding day on the calendar but it’s a great reminder and a call to action. We should be following the 5 steps and washing our hands thoroughly at every opportunity.
And, where possible, stay away from hospitals.