I was amazed the other day when I saw a co-worker leaving the bathroom and realized that he didn’t wash his hands.  This kind of grossed me out because a community bathroom is basically a peetree dish of germs and bacteria.  Then I started wondering just how many people I work with don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom; and for that matter how many people in general fail to wash their hands.  I was shocked to learn that only 3 out of 10 people I personally observed appeared to wash their hands after using the bathroom at work.

Many people lie about washing their hands; saying they did when in fact they didn’t.  Some people claim they have no reason to wash their hands because they are a clean person or the only thing they touched was themselves.  That might be true, but the person who used the bathroom before you could have been nastier than the monkey from Outbreak.  This prompted me to do a little research.  According to a study in 2006, 91 percent of adults polled by telephone said they washed their hands after visiting the bathroom.  When observers were sent into public restrooms, only 82 percent of 6,336 adults actually washed their hands.  It was found that 90 percent of women wash their hands compared to only 75 percent of men.  That was really no surprise to me because we men are dirty by nature.

As an IT worker, I am exposed to all kinds of situations where I could pick up germs from a keyboard, mouse, telephone or some other surface of a person’s workspace.  Even though I am diligent in washing my hands regularly, my efforts are stymied by either not properly cleaning my own workspace or another person’s lack of hygiene.  According to another study done by the University of Arizona, a work station contains 400 times more germs and bacteria than bathroom lavatories.  The biggest culprit being the telephone which can have over 25,000 germs per square inch; a toilet seat on average only has 49 germs per square inch.

In offices where workers were told to wipe their desks with anti-bacterial wipes, the levels of bacteria were reduced 99 percent.  That goes a long way to reducing the spread of things like colds and the flu.  Flu viruses can survive on a surface for up to 72 hours.  Many people do not think about things like this when they fail to wash their hands or come to work sick.  This puts the entire office at risk when the workplace becomes an incubator for germs.  It’s a vicious cycle that is hard to break, but can be helped by people washing their hands and the proper use of hand sanitizer.

So how should you properly wash your hands?  That varies depending on who you ask, but it is generally accepted to use warm water and soap for 20 seconds then rinse; according to the CDC.  Anti-bacterial soap is no more or less effective than regular soap; in fact anti-bacterial soap may lead to bacteria developing that are resistant to the antimicrobial agents in the soap.  The rule I have always heard of and often use is singing the Happy Birthday song in my head while lathering to ensure I’ve done it properly.  Hand sanitizers are also recommended but not as an alternative to hand washing and as long as they contain at least 60 percent alcohol.

Then the question of warm water versus cold water came to me; which one was better?  The sinks at work take forever before the water gets warm and I felt like I was wasting water by waiting.  So I figured cold water was better than nothing.  But according to a study done by Joint Bank Group/Fund Health Services Department and published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2005 that subjects tested using water at temperatures ranging from 40 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit found “no effect on transient or resident bacterial reduction.”  The only evidence they could find is that using warm water increased the “irritant capacity” of some soaps and that could lead to contact dermatitis.  So warm water or cold water really doesn’t matter as long as you are washing properly.

Knowing all this might turn someone into a “germaphobe”, and that really wasn’t my intention.  I am the furthest thing from it but yet I do my best to maintain a level of hygiene especially in the workplace.  It is nearly impossible to create a totally sterile environment, but taking some simple steps can help reduce the spread of germs and bacteria at home as well at work.  With flu season fast approaching, there is a lot more one can do than simply getting a flu shot.

I guess my overall reason for writing this was to fulfill a need to vent about the lack of hygiene of my co-workers.  But it could also serve two purposes.  The second being a guide or suggestion to some who might not be regular hand washers to change their germ ridden ways.  I guess you could say it all comes down to being an act of courtesy which is lacking nearly everywhere these days.  But if you can’t do it for your co-workers or family, why not do it for yourself?  Think about the person who will use that bathroom after you.  Then ask yourself if people might actually know you walk around with pee or poo on your hands all day.